YOU are in Cybersecurity Danger – From FOUR Directions – Part I

The Risks are Far Worse Than Most of Us Think. But There is Hope

This is the first part of a two-part post. Today’s blog lays out the primary dangers we face individually and as a country. Part II looks at ways out of this mess.

We are all aware that a lot seems to be amiss in the world of cybersecurity. What may have gotten lost for some of us is how deep and wide the threats run. There is an overarching framework that makes this all exceptionally dangerous. The attacks come from four different threats, all aimed at us.

The Framework

The overarching framework is that cybertechnology now connects almost everything in modern life. Something was last so pervasive in human life when we invented the wheel. Again when we harnessed electricity. That is how big an impact the cyber world has on us. Almost everything in modern life is now harnessed to or linked by cybertechnology. This has given us great benefits, with more to come.

It also means we are extraordinarily vulnerable to disruptions and misuse. One large corporate player in the cyberworld no longer refers to the Internet of Things. They now use the term Internet of Everything. Right they are. In a few short years things will be connected in ways most of us cannot imagine. Much of it will happen automatically. We will be connected in every way imaginable.

The Threats

  1. Criminals – We tend to think only of criminal misuse of the cyber world. This is important but may in the end be the least of our worries. Hackers have an array of tools and entry points at their disposal. In one year I had to replace three credit cards because companies I had done business with were hacked. This threat also includes phishing and other online or telephone scams (fake emergency cash requests, fake IRS calls, etc.). In general, these are more irritating than threatening. But once criminals have some of your data, there are dozens of ways they can misuse it.
  2. Corporate Misuse – This has been a sobering year of constant revelations about how Big Data. They have lied and mislead about what information they capture on us and how they use it. If there is anyone who still trusts Facebook or Google, for example, they are in a small crowd. There is a growing backlash to all this, but we are up against giants and an appalling lack of transparency. Interesting alternatives like the Decentralized web (Dweb) are popping up. But as we will discuss in the next blog post, this may be the toughest nut to crack. Nevertheless, this cannot continue as it is. Social media and related media will be a net positive or a negative. It will not be neutral. We need to decide what require and what we will accept. Social media is likely here to stay. Who will run it, under what guidelines? For a quick and interesting Dweb tutorial, see this article in Wired. 
  3. Foreign Powers – We have long known that foreign powers use cyberspace to spy and for other purposes. It is only recently that we have realized how pervasive such attacks are. The Russian efforts in the 2016 elections (and continuing) highlight a challenging threat. People were manipulated by the millions. We also know that the Chinese have the most massive ongoing attack on the US. They are amassing sensitive commercial and government data. They are also gathering personal data on millions of individuals.  The potential to complicate lives and to disrupt the commercial and banking sectors are profound.

  4. Infrastructure Attacks – We know that the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, and international terrorist groups are probing. So are others. They are probing electronically and physically to determine our infrastructure vulnerabilities. Groups have examined the physical security at our nuclear power plants. Same for transport protocols for nuclear materials. Several countries and groups have been probing our power grids and financial systems. Russian submarines are examining our vital transoceanic data cables. The Chinese have long been working on anti-satellite technology.

What is Next?

We are stupefyingly vulnerable in every one of these areas. Everyone owns this failure, but mostly government. More on this in the next post but know for now that our level of vulnerability in each of these areas is significant. Shutting down this society could be remarkably easy. These are time bombs waiting for someone to pull the switch. We could see some of these activated sooner rather than later.

So, are we doomed? If any of these come to roost in a major way in the near term, yes, we are.

But there are fixes available, given a modicum of leadership and a sense of priorities. On our next post, we will talk about our way out of this foreboding wilderness. We will face few decision points of more gravity in the coming months that these.

Bill Clontz, Founder, Agents of Reason        Bill Clontz

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