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Cybersecurity Threats and Why You Should Care

Why Do Cybersecurity Threats Exist?

In the early days, hackers were largely motivated by recognition within their peer-group circles—generally by making a splash in the mainstream press. As such, impacts tended to be highly visible and disruptive in a short term. Since the early 2000s however, malware has been focused much more heavily on becoming a profit center for the creators. As such, the impacts tend to be lower key, but much more effective in the medium term. Many victims have no idea they have been hacked for months or even years while the malware introduced to their system collects critical information such as online banking details and other system vulnerabilities which may be manipulated.

Generally speaking—depending on the type or scale of malevolent online behavior—there is almost no risk, but the rewards for hackers can be huge. For instance, an average Russian developer can legally earn a ~$24k salary in Moscow and meanwhile earn thousands selling malicious software on underground crime forums. If caught, Russian authorities are unlikely to prosecute the perpetrator, unless the hacker targets Russian victims (Plesser, 2014).

Further, the temptation for hackers grows with every new technology and our increasing reliance on the Internet. With the wider use of untraceable crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, it is now possible to extort money from people with an almost zero likelihood of the money being traced (Waddell, 2016).

Why Should You Care?

Well, that depends on how much value you place on the material on your various devices.

A review of the potential cybersecurity threats, common targets, and methods of attack will help you understand just how much—or how little—security should be undertaken to reduce the risk of serious damage or loss to hacking. This paper will help you to do just that. We start by identifying the types of malware—which describes any software created with a malicious intent.

Types of Malware

  • Identify Theft
    This type of malware works to quietly gain enough control of the computer so that it can monitor keystrokes or a user’s personal information that will provide access to bank accounts, or to enable identify theft.
  • Extortion
    Here, the hacker seeks payment—often via a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin which is truly anonymous and untraceable—before they will resume your affected device to normal service.
  • Espionage
    Sometimes created by state-sponsored actors (Kushner, 2013), this type of malware may also be deployed as part of a commercial strategy (Zwienenberg, 2012).
  • Sabotage
    Malware for sabotage can take many forms. Sometimes this is about physical destruction of machinery attached to affected devices like the Stuxnet virus (Kushner, 2013). Stuxnet is believed to have been a joint Israeli/US operation built to destroy approximately 1,000 centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear weapons enrichment plant. Other times sabotage is about brand damage; Sony has been hacked twice in recent years, resulting in massive negative global press and costs of an estimated $170 million.
  • Vengeance
    Companies and individuals can be targeted by disgruntled employees, former staff, and competitors seeking to wreak havoc.

Targets for Malware

  • Smart Phones
    Any device that people might choose to do banking on is a particular target.
  • Websites
    These are generally a gateway to either a server or user desktops.
  • Desktop Computers
    Malware can be introduced via the Internet (email or websites) or via USB or Disk.
  • The Internet of Things or “IOT”
    This refers to the multitude of new products which are Internet connected like security cameras you can check from anywhere. The issue is that these devices are often hideously insecure and often by design, cannot be secured. A little more than 130,000 devices were recently harnessed to produce the biggest distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack in Internet history (the case is detailed further in this paper).


As you can see, a significant threat landscape exists in this ever-connected world. But a security strategy is really a risk management activity.

If your data is not sensitive, and has little commercial value, then the risks of hacking are relatively low. You do, however, need to think about the cost if something bad happens. If you can’t afford the downtime in a major situation or if the data is sensitive, costs increase, so more attention needs to be paid to this.

Sometimes I find it bizarre anything happens without problems in the cyber landscape. But there are things you can do to help protect yourself. None of this should be news, but it is always good to reiterate best practice.

Note: when thinking about this, understanding whether threats are local (i.e. on the current machine) or remote (over the network) is an important distinction as it will change the approach to the mitigation. It is easier to exercise a remote vulnerability than a local one. But be aware that combining threats together in order to gain access to a local vulnerability is a stock tool of the potential miscreants.

How to Mitigate Cybersecurity Threats

  • User Training
    This is—by far and away—the best first step you can take. Nothing can protect you from people doing stupid things, or being tricked when they don’t know what to look for. The way to stop that is to train people. Regular user training to provide examples of the latest threats and the type of scam being run is critical to make people engage their brains when faced with making a decision. How many people when they get a call from Telstra validate that they are in fact from Telstra?
  • Patching
    The next most important protection is to ensure all of your devices are regularly patched. The best way to apply security patches for any product is to automate this process. If the patching is manual, you’re opening yourself to forgetting to update, leaving your products unprotected.
  • Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi Unless You Know What You are Doing (Gordon, 2014)
    In essence, by default, other people’s networks should not be trusted. How often do you plug your computer into someone else’s network? Every time you do so, you open yourself up to risk.
  • Two-factor Authentication
    Or 2FA—if you can remove the need for passwords, or use them in conjunction with a one-time key (OTP) to authorize actions, this is a really good mitigation activity.
  • Use a Password Manager
    One problem these days is the sheer volume of passwords you need to remember. Because of this, most people use a small subset of passwords. The problem with this is that if one site gets hacked, other accounts can be compromised thus leading to identify theft. By using a password manager you can use individual passwords for every account you need (I currently have 111 passwords stored in my password manager).
  • Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)
    This is a resource created by information security professionals for website developers. Their top 10 list of attack vectors should be required reading for any developer building a website. It is much harder to build secure code than just having to build something which works, but is not necessarily secure. But developers with the knowledge of what not to do can make their lives significantly easier by following OWASP as closely as possible (Top 10 Vulnerabilities, 2013).
  • Website Security
    A website, is a website, is a website, right? Well, no. Over time the encryption strategies that protect websites change. For instance: https:// links used to be secured via SSL v1, then v2, then v3. Now, SSLv3 is deemed too insecure for use, and you need to move to TLS v1.2 and above. There are a myriad of websites which still support SSLv3—sometimes because older desktops do not support the newer schemes, but generally from inertia.
  • Vendors
    Talk to security vendors. There are some really interesting solutions which learn what normal traffic looks like on your network and will then alert you if something odd happens. Intrusion Detection and Protection Systems are a godsend for larger firms.
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