The Virtual Wild West Needs More Sheriffs
As the Internet continues to expand its reach more into everyday life, countless businesses, organizations, nations and individuals are scrambling to find ways to keep data and livelihoods safe from the threats of cyber criminals. With hackers stealing close to $250 billion a year in intellectual property and personal data, businesses are trying to keep pace in offering defense solutions. Corporations are expected to spend almost $70 billion in information security this year alone. Is money, though, enough to stay ahead of the next cyber threat?
Still a new and constantly evolving frontier, cyber security is the online world’s answer to hackers and Internet spammers, but the playing field changes almost daily. Computer-savvy do-gooding mavens are lined up to keep systems, data, communities and people safe. Here is a closer look at some of the threats they—and the rest of us—currently face.
Ransom-ware is an old school, lo-fi threat that uses high-tech means to achieve its ends. Here’s how it works: A hacker infects your computer and locks it up so you can’t gain entry to your data or use any of the programs. The hacker then demands you pay a ransom—it’s usually a few hundred dollars—or you’ll never have access to your computer again. To some people, getting back to their files and programs and personal data is worth a few hundred dollars, but because the folks who are running these scams aren’t worried about their personal integrity, they don’t release the computer even if you pay.
Protecting yourself from ransom-ware isn’t easy either. Most anti-virus software won’t work against these types of hackers’ methods, although a few tools can sometimes provide assistance like Norton’s Power Erase, Microsoft’s Security Essentials or Norton’s Power Eraser. Your best bet is to make sure you are constantly backing up your data, whether to a cloud-based server or an external hard drive, so if you are a victim of one of these scams, you won’t lose any precious information. No matter what, though, if you are a victim of ransom-ware, don’t pay and contact your local police department. They probably won’t catch whoever did it, but law enforcement needs to continue to expand its awareness of cyber-crime.
The anonymity and versatility of the cloud makes it the perfect haven for cyber-criminals. Unwittingly, cloud service providers are being used as attack hosts. Because anyone with a credit card—even a stolen credit card—can buy admittance to the cloud as a client, cyber-criminals are using these multifaceted networks to not only launch attacks in a cloud-based server, but they’re increasingly launching them from clouds where their location and identity are hard to trace. From identity theft to phishing scams and massive banking fraud, cyber-criminals are finding more ways to take advantage of the nebulous cloud, because it provides ideal cover and access for their illegal doings.
Advanced Persistent Threats
Another new danger has emerged in cyber crime is known as an advanced persistent threat. It’s hacking that is mostly aimed at gaining access to intellectual property, and most of the time, it’s crime that is state-sponsored. Beyond concerns over financial gain, advanced persistent threats are ideological and often deal with issues of national security. Through multi-pronged, small, stealthy and patient attacks, hackers sift through and steal data over the course of months or even years. One high-profile case involved a worm that allowed hackers to infiltrate and potentially damage the infrastructure systems in Iran that manage uranium. It was discovered in 2010, but the masterminds behind the worm had been planning, developing and implementing aspects of the attack since as far back as 2006.
Sadly, this small glance at cyber security threats only skims the surface of what today’s dangers are—let alone what tomorrow’s dangers may be. National security, personal data, sensitive banking information, infrastructure systems and more—so much of 21st-century life is integrated with the Internet. Anymore, defending our data is almost synonymous with defending ourselves.
We need the resources, people, imagination and foresight to steer clearly in the coming years, or more and more people may find a reason to entirely steer clear of the Internet.
About the Author: Harry Branson is a contributing blogger who has been an IT manager for the past five years.