WARNING: The War in Cyber Space May Aim for YOU!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

For the month of December, our blog will include a two part series delving into the increasingly prevalent and exasperatingly relevant topic of Cyber Terrorism. In this segment, we will examine the scope of the matter, which spans its disastrous reach from government-to-government, globe-wide, and trickles all the way down to you and me. Also, we will explore new terminology, context and vocabulary that are becoming commonly heard in discussion of the topic throughout the media. The second installment of our series we will study specific practices that you should implement to protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming targets of cyber-attacks. As the realistic concerns over cybercrimes grow, the best defense for everyone from big business to your teenage daughter, as always, is awareness, knowledge and preparation.

Today, the American export with the fastest growing demand from smaller, less technologically advanced, countries worldwide has long been in the market of defense and has begun steadily shifting from tangible weaponry to technology based defenses.  This increased interest is proof in itself that international fear over cyber security is on the rise. It has also given way to a presently undefined parameter for American technology companies to create defensive and offensive cyber capabilities for sale abroad. One publicly known case of this was the Israeli and American Cyber War brain child, Stuxnet, which is the virus attributed with disabling hundreds of centrifuges in Iran’s primary Uranium enrichment plants in 2009 and 2010. In August, RasGas of Qatar and Saudi Aramco of Saudi Arabia (the most valuable company in the world) were both attacked by a relatively unsophisticated virus, named Shamoon, which was developed from commercially available software and wiped out 30,000 business networks as well as an enormous amount of backup data, speculated to be deployed by Iran. In response to this attack, Qatar and Saudi Arabian defense chiefs reached out to a US security consultant firm, Booz Allan Hamilton, to create cyber-defense software for their respective governments. Though the line between product development and sales, and becoming an active war ally isn’t yet defined, the matter at hand is that the supply and demand chain has been set in motion.

Beneath the umbrella of globally felt cyber-crime concerns, and like all other forms of terrorism and crime, we see three distinctions in the motives of criminals; ideological, financial and political gain. The most recent terrifying target of cyber-attacks felt by most, if not all, Americans has been on our banking systems.  Within a 10 day stretch in the month of September the largest banks in our country, including; JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi Group, US Bancorp and PNC Banking were attacked by an Iranian “Hacktivist” group calling itself ‘Izz ad-Din al-Quassam Cyber Fighters’ that methodically flooded the traffic to the bank sites rendering them unavailable for customers for hours or days at a time. They claim these attacks were retaliation at the posting of an anti-Islamic trailer for the film “The Innocence of Muslims” on The group renewed its attacks in October on Capital One and BB&T, and presently threatens to continue these attacks in the coming weeks if the video is not taken down. Though there are numerous other examples of worldwide cyber-attacks in the news the most prominent and feared global threat on the “Cyber Frontier” is unequivocally the Chinese, who are responsible for ongoing attempts to breach the White House Military Office, in search of information and technology. The Chinese, enlist a cyber-militia of sorts comprised of people who hold software engineering and other high-tech day jobs to carry out plans of espionage on the private sector as well as secured government databases, but have so far shown no interest in launching potentially devastating offensive cyber-attacks.

SO, what do we do? How can we protect ourselves and our families from falling prey to small time cyber criminals when even our government may not be able to successfully protect itself?! First; we must understand the context by which we are endangered, then, we can understand what we are up against. Second, what cyber criminals are looking for, and how to become a harder target. Finally, we can prepare for worst case scenarios, as one great American, Benjamin Franklin, said “Failure to prepare, is preparing to fail.” The following is a list of terminology and vocabulary for your review, to understand our next segment.

7 Essential Cyber Security Vocabulary Words to Know:

1.       Cyber Warfare - Cyber warfare refers to a massively coordinated digital assault on one government by another, or by large groups of citizens. It is the action by a group to penetrate another entity’s computers or networks for the purposes of causing damage or disruption. The term cyber warfare may also be used to describe attacks between corporations, from terrorist organizations, or simply attacks by individuals called hackers, who are perceived as being warlike in their intent.

2.       Cyber Terrorism - The intentional use of computer, networks, and public internet to cause destruction and harm for personal objectives. Objectives may political or ideological since this is a form of terrorism.

3.       Cyber Crimes - are defined as: "Offences that are committed against individuals or groups of individuals with a criminal motive to intentionally harm the reputation of the victim or cause physical or mental harm to the victim directly or indirectly, using modern telecommunication networks such as Internet (Chat rooms, emails, notice boards and groups) and mobile devices .”

4.       Identity Theft- Identity theft occurs when someone commits fraud by uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission.

5.       Malware - is any malicious software, including viruses and spyware that get installed on your computer, phone, or mobile device without your consent. These programs can cause your device to crash and can be used to monitor and control your online activity. Criminals use malware to steal personal information, send spam, and commit fraud.

6.       Phishing - when internet fraudsters impersonate a business to trick you into giving out your personal information. The act of attempting to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Term coined by the man that invented it due to it’s ‘baiting’ technique of alluring  gullible potential victims to give up personal information.

7.       Skimming - An electronic method of capturing a victim's personal information used by identity thieves. The skimmer is a small device that scans a credit card and stores the information contained in the magnetic strip.

8.       Spyware – a type of malware that is usually unknowingly self-installed to your computer with the intent to monitor and transmit information about the user's computer and web-based activities over the Internet.

Now that you are up to date with the current conversations circulating threats on the cyber frontier, here are 4 quick and simple tips that you can take immediately to begin securing your web browser against online threats:

1.       Check your security settings - make sure your browser’s security is set high enough to detect malware downloads.

2.       Turn your pop-up blocker on high.

3.       Surf smart - Stay off sites you suspect may be vulnerable to hackers; such as those with adult content, sweepstakes, pop-ups, or those that are unfamiliar but ask you to enter a username and password to view their content.

4.       Know who you’re inviting into your hard-drive - Avoid downloading applications and programs from untrustworthy and 3rd party locations such as music and movie downloaders, or anything not creating by your products manufacturer or their partner as they tend to be laced with spyware. 

In our next blog we will be discussing how susceptible you and your family are to the cyber threats discussed above, most frighteningly identity theft. We will share how to secure your sensitive online information and suggestions on how to secure information stored on your computer’s hard drive. With the current increase in natural and intended disasters, I recommend that you revisit our previous blog post where we discussed the necessary preparations for any unfortunate situation such as a power grid being manipulated or failing.  As we continue through the joyous holiday season, be sure to stay aware of the increasingly present cyber war mounting around us.