We live in an age where, unfortunately, it is essential for us all to be adequately protected from the various dangers we, and our devices and networks, may encounter online. In order to combat these cyber threats, the cyber security industry is working tirelessly to try and outpace those that may wish to do harm to us or our technologies. In this series of articles, we’ll be looking at what cyber security is overall, what the threats we face are, and how we could overcome the challenges we face using various different cutting-edge technologies currently in development.
Cyber security is a term that encompasses an extremely large area of operations within nearly every industry on the face of the planet. Since the digital revolution began over twenty years ago, the way we both do business and go about our daily lives has transformed immeasurably.
This had led to the emergence of various new and challenging threats that our ever more digitized, virtualized, and connected world will have to deal with.
In its essence, cyber security is a response to these global changes and in this, the first in a series of articles relating to cyber security, we’ll be introducing the concept of cyber security, why it has come about, the purpose it serves and how it is currently being used today.
So, let’s get straight into it.
Security in the 21st Century
Throughout the 80s and 90s, cyber security threats and doomsday scenarios became incredibly popular among popular culture and Hollywood films as computers began to enter more and more homes. However, after the millennium, concern around cyber security seemed to take somewhat of a dip. Many businesses and institutions, lacking real-world examples of cyber-attacks, began to let cyber security slip way down on their to-do list.
The fallout from “The Y2K problem,” where many expected embedded systems controlling utilities and critical infrastructure to fail due to their inability to distinguish the year 2000 from the year 1900, may well have underwhelmed those actually paying attention to the point where they no longer saw hackers, viruses, or any other cyber threat as a legitimate hazard to them.
However, this mindset has been abruptly reverted over the last decade or so. Various major cyber- attacks, from WannaCry and NotPetya to the Yahoo and Equifax breaches, have shown the world that nobody is completely safe from these kinds of attacks. A particularly potent example of the power of a cyber-attack from an organised and well-resourced attacker was the Stuxnet worm that caused significant damage to an Iranian nuclear plant back in 2010.
These kinds of attacks have served as a wake-up call to many and cyber security is once again, rightfully, swiftly climbing back up the priority lists of many businesses and organisations, both large and small.
More recently, the emergence of smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) has meant that ever larger volumes of data are being collected and analysed using increasingly powerful devices. This has seen an increase in concern and discussion around protecting personal and confidential information and the law regarding privacy and data usage.
Protecting Personal Data and Information
IoT devices, smartphones and laptops, surveillance and security systems, digital signage, the websites you use and the cars you drive, all of these technologies collect data about those that use and interact with them and, more often than not, all of that data is collected, analysed and then stored somewhere.
This means that it is all of this information is now available to anyone with enough resources, determination, and an internet connection.
As more and more information is stored and shared online, the selection of information, and potential victims, from which hackers have to choose continues to grow. This has also seen the development of attacks that are designed to attack multiple targets simultaneously through methods such as botnets, which we’ll discuss more in part two of this series.
While many people may associate hackers with teenage computer prodigies performing their deeds in dimly lit basements, the reality is they are much more likely to encounter hackers who are directly involved with organised crime and the idea of hacking for profit. These are the hackers that will look to steal your personal information such as credit card details in order to sell them on the black market.
The rapid expansion of the Internet of Things and the utilization of Big Data have both stimulated the development of new, more advanced technologies as well as heightened concerns for the security of every online service and the rights of individuals to control the way in which their data is used. The former has seen the development of enhanced encryption methods and other secure technologies such as blockchain, while the later has, more recently, helped generate regulations such as the EU’s recent General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
Why is Cyber Security So Important?
What should have become obvious by this point, is that there is a plethora of reasons for why cyber security is so important and should be a high priority to anyone using online or network services or infrastructure.
As we enter an age where fast, flexible, and secure network connections are increasingly relied upon to enable the functioning of society, there will of course still be threats and dangers to these systems. And it is from these hazards that we will need to protect ourselves from.
The importance of cyber security in modern times cannot be understated as we hand over more and more of our sensitive data to the systems and devices we use.
In order to prevent peoples personal or financial data being compromised, or to protect critical infrastructure from potentially deadly cyber-sabotage, it is essential we raise our understanding of what cyber security systems are, what they protect, and to a certain extent, how they do it.
With a growing amount of personal, sensitive, and identifiable information being collected to provide more personalised and bespoke content and services, it would be reasonable to assume that efforts to obtain this information illegally will ramp up as the technologies that enable them also evolve over time.
In part two of this three-part series, we’ll be taking a look at the different kinds of cyber threats out there, what they do, and also looking at a few real-world examples how they’ve affected systems around the world.