Should we be excited or worried by advances in technology? There are innovators dedicated to using cyber to better our lives, and scammers equally determined to use computers for covert destructiveness. There’s global evidence that hacker attacks on system networks will become the most devastating form of future warfare.
A news headline screams, “We Are in the Middle of the Age of Cyberwars.” Drones are available online and in hobby shops. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is projected to surpass our own human intelligence. Malware was discovered targeting the Olympic Infrastructure. Ransomware – malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid – is a menacing threat to companies, banks, governments, and you and me.
As the volume and sophistication of cyber attacks grow, top intelligence officials caution that cyber theft and digital spying are the top threat to national security, eclipsing even terrorism.
We'd assume that the CIA and the FBI use properly secured software. But last year Kane Gamble, a teenager operating from his bedroom in Leicestershire, England, used “social engineering” — a fancy name for manipulating people — to access the accounts of the leaders of these agencies. By impersonating the director of the CIA and the deputy director of the FBI this 15 year old was given access to their emails, including classified material about intelligence operations in Afghanistan and Iran.
If a skillful teenager with limited equipment can hack into the top-secret accounts, imagine what countries with huge espionage budgets can accomplish. Attacks like these are difficult to prevent, and it’s almost impossible to prove who the perpetrators are:
It’s nearly 10 years since the computers of the Tibetan government in exile were found to be infested with sophisticated spyware, presumably Chinese.
Perhaps the most successful system infiltration was the joint US/Israeli Stuxnet attack on the Iranian nuclear program in 2009.
There is increasing evidence of attacks of this sort by Russia — against Estonia and then against Ukraine — where tens of thousands of hackings into everything from power supplies to voting machines have opened an under-reported front in an under-reported war.
Great Britain and the Trump administration blame North Korea for the reckless WannaCry cyber attacks that crippled hospitals, banks, and companies across the globe. The UK and US launched retaliatory measures against North Korea to interfere with North Korea’s nuclear missile program.
Across the Baltic, the Swedish government announced a beefed-up program of civil defense, with the most substantial part an attempt to protect its software and networks from attacks.
The British government is planning to spend £1.9bn on cyber security between now and 2021. Their parliament’s intelligence committee concluded that China and Iran should be added to Russia and North Korea as countries that could threaten the infrastructure of the UK.
This may all seem far away from home, but it’s not. The systems that support our daily living — electricity, water, transportation, and banking — are all dependent on the Internet. Our own personal information and passwords are the drivers that make smart devices work. Connected devices, digitized records, smart cars, smart homes, and smart cities are our new reality. With all its advantages, increased connectivity brings increased risk of theft, fraud, and abuse.
So should we be excited or worried by these advances in technology?
Let’s enjoy the benefits and mitigate the risks. Although we may not have invited technology into our lives to the degree that it exists, cyber security is a shared responsibility. It’s important for each of us to understand how to use these innovations in safe and secure ways.
Stopthinkconnect.org is a website full of informative tips. It tells us how to protect the security of any of the ways we use cyberspace. It offers best practices for how to guard personal information and how to use social media safely. It provides travel tips, guides for online safety, how to use public WiFi, and how to report cyber crime, phishing, and more.
I admit to feeling intimidated by the challenge of making my phone, tablet, and computer secure, but I’m open to it.
Like it or not, we’re all in cyber soup together!
Sources: digitalguardian.com, Reuters.com, dhs.gov