(Updated 29 February 2016)
Do you think your personal information stored on the Internet, Apps, or on personal your computer is safe from theft? Do you think companies or the government is able to protect you from having that information stolen? Perhaps, but sadly, according to experts, the answer is probably not.
While the war against ISIL continues, another threat quietly builds momentum and only requires the use of ones and zeros.
Yes, it is cyber terrorism.
Since the U.S. military unleashed the Internet upon the world in the early 1990’s, the threat of cyber attacks have grown year by year.
Every week the news media reports another hacking breach of data belonging to a company or a government, A recent example: the November 2014 cyber attack on Sony perpetrated by the North Korean government. Evidence revealed that the malware used was not very sophisticated, which surprised many. More alarming was the fact, stated by cyber experts, that the defenses of most companies would not have been able to prevent the attack. To combat the increase in cyber attacks companies are protecting their organizations with cyber insurance, up 32 percent this year. However, this does nothing to prevent attacks, rather merely addresses the problems created by data stolen. Think of it like going to the doctor after you already have a disease. This is not preventative, rather merely damage control.
Another example, though less publicized and slightly different, was the penetration of the Pentagon in 2008 by the Chinese government. This attack stemmed from a virus injection from a thumb-drive inserted into a computer within the Pentagon. In addition, China Eagle Union and Unit 61398, two hacker groups supposedly only loosely connected with the Chinese government, have infiltrated many U.S. government databases. The Chinese government has denied any allegations of support for such activity.
More recently, President Obama and Chinese President Xi agreed to a cyber detente, of sorts. In essence, both countries agreed to not try to penetrate the databases of the other. Time will tell.
If you don’t believe hacking is a problem, then consider this: August 2013, at the annual hacker conference, U.S. Army General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), delivered the keynote address, which was a plea for assistance from the hacking community to defend the U.S.
Not to be an alarmist, but if you think that cyber threats don’t pose a risk to you, then you may be fooling yourself. As of June 2015, a German hacker prevention team found a security loophole in some Apps, which if accessed would allow hackers to obtain personal information. In fact, there was a fake app code that surfaced, allowing such access, but Apple quickly stopped the proliferation of the malware. However, the same issue could be true of answering that Facebook link. Be aware.
Finally, the latest hacking threat is Ransom Ware, where the files on your personal computer are held ransom. Hackers send an infected email or picture to you that looks legitimate and you click on it. Then, in a matter of hours or days, your computer gives you a ransom request, monetary payment, in order to unlock your files, which you have been locked out of. Two recent examples occurred at the Los Angeles Health Department and a Los Angeles hospital. In the latter, the ransom request was for $17000, which they eventually paid.
Symantec states that 100, 000 attacks like this are launched each month.
What is being done?
Currently, Federal Bureau of Investigation officials and cyber security experts are debating whether victims should pay the ransom, but offer no other broad-ranging solutions.
My suggestion: back up your entire computer regularly on a storage device that is not connected to the Internet.
So, while those of us that are non-techies may be unwitting targets, the governments around the world are aware of the problem, but are struggling with real solutions.
Protect your personal information.
60 Minutes. CBS (aired 12 April 2015).
PBS NewsHour. PBS (aired February 2016 and October 2015).
Washington Post article (1 August 2015).
Nightly Business Report. PBS (aired 17 June 2015).