ESCALATING WAR ON CYBERSPACE
The Philippine Star
01/19/2017

The top 10 cyber attacks discussed in last Tuesday’s column are a gauge of how the battle for Internet security is shaping up. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg since technology is changing at a pace where more new applications are being developed to help humans in their everyday lives or enhance their lifestyles.

A few years ago, the concept of Internet of Things (IoT) had been broached. Today, we are seeing the convenience of connecting our households to the Internet or even the promise of safer road mobility as our vehicles move towards full automation.

But there also are dangers to us consumers as cybercriminals find opportunities to manipulate unsecured data that we use to monitor the state-of-affairs inside our homes, or to take over the “key” to our vehicles or smart televisions.

Yes, ransomware is now the “in” thing for criminals who have realized that there is opportunity to make a fast buck by “kidnapping” your home security camera or smart TV, and returning the rights to use this for an agreed amount, which by the way, is not peanuts.


Be secure

Lest readers get turned away from today’s technology advances, some of which really contribute value to our present connected lives, the above malicious acts are easily preventable. Many times, it just boils down to observing recommended security practices, like using strong passwords, and changing them regularly.

Other “must” measures that need to be observed to ensure the security of your data involve getting updated anti-virus/anti-malware software on your computer, refraining from clicking on links that are not trusted or coming from unknown senders, and keeping your personal data like passwords in a safe place.

Cyber security experts predict that 2017 will be a year when hackers will more resolutely shift their preying attention to ordinary consumers who have come to appreciate the conveniences that the Internet has to offer. This includes online purchasing, smartphone banking, and even social media use.


Business threats

2017 also brings continued attacks on companies – big and small – who need to fight back against more vicious attempts to distort or extract their data systems, and consequently damage their brand integrity.

Hackers have become more tenacious in their attempt to breach corporate security walls, and this is raising the cost of keeping wired connectivity secure. At the moment, there is a severe shortage of security manpower for the corporate cyber security department.

Big companies like Wendy’s, CISCO, Dyn, and Bitfinex were attacked last year, and there will be more this year. Smaller – and more vulnerable – businesses increasingly have also experienced attacks, particularly through phishing in emails addressed to employees.

Hackers have found small businesses to be more vulnerable to malwares that have the capability to ferret out personal information of employees, but more importantly, financial transaction data of the company.


Cyber activism

Governments are also facing increased vulnerability to criminal acts – and cyber activism. Web-based ideology groups like Anonymous and WikiLeaks have become more adept at penetrating government sites and emails of key government personalities.

The U.S. government is taking this very seriously, and has increased its cyber security budget by 35 percent, from $14 billion to $19 billion. And it is not just data manipulation or filching that is a concern, but also what is shaping up now as potential risks of an attack on the whole economy.

Nation-meddling and cyber conflict are two emerging trends on the government side. An example is the reported theft of Chinese nationals of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans from the databases of the Office of Personnel Management.

While the Chinese government was not directly involved in the heist, reports indicated that it knew of the attack but did not impose any sanctions on the criminals involved. This prompted President Barrack Obama to issue a stern warning to China, thus escalating the incident to an issue between nations.

Such kinds of cyber heists are expected to increase if we look at what experts estimate to be the cost on a global scale, now at $3 trillion a year, but would most likely double to $6 trillion in 2021.

The list of potential cybercrimes is impressive – and scary: damage and destruction of data, stolen money, lost productivity, theft of intellectual property, theft of personal and financial data, embezzlement, fraud, post-attack disruption to the normal course of business, forensic investigation, restoration and deletion of hacked data and systems, and reputational harm.

There are even talks about sabotages of commercial airplanes by drones or through its onboard entertaining system as more airline companies offer Internet access to inflight passengers.


Cyber security start-ups

The other side of all these is the industry of cyber security companies, products and professionals, a bustling business that is expected to grow to $1 trillion over the next five years.

At the same time, expect a surge in the number of people who will be joining this sunshine industry – much like the business process outsourcing industry in the last decade – to counter the unseen and numerous attacks relentlessly mounted by cyber criminals.

Many start-ups are being organized that can offer protection services and programs to a growing global market. India, for example, has taken the lead in encouraging the growth of home-grown cyber security companies, and is eyeing to grow this industry from $4 billion to $35 billion by 2025.

Perhaps the Philippines too should look at this industry’s prospects in view of the expected surge in spending by individuals, companies, and governments to protect their space in the wired world.


Is it worth all the risk?

Sometimes, all these make me feel nostalgic about the simplicity of life before the explosion of the Internet. Sure, an on-demand lifestyle is cool, but all the risks that the world now faces somehow gives rise to some level of angst. Could World War III be started by the Internet?


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