Forget everything you thought you knew about crime. In the next 10-20 years, crime as we know it today will have been largely replaced by cyber crime. According to recent statistics provided by Intel, we’re moving from 15 billion connected devices today to a whopping 200 billion by the year 2020. That's an insane number of devices that can be hacked, making us increasingly vulnerable. In fact, our modern world is like a digital house of cards that could come crashing down if we don’t take precautions. We’re facing security threats that were completely unimaginable 10 years ago, posing an existential threat to society.
The Internet of Things is already under attack
You’d be surprised at how few people are aware of the fact that each and every connected device we use is hackable. Your kids’ gaming console may seem like a harmless device, but consoles have already been hacked for spying purposes. DVRs and fridges have been sabotaged to enable Bitcoin mining, relaying spam and even participating in DDoS attacks – all via malware. Cyber criminals are increasingly targeting specific devices and they use the power of the Internet of Things to facilitate these criminal acts
Cyber extortion with ransomware
Ransom is a very effective extortion tool that’s as old as time. With all aspects of our lives connected to online platforms and accounts at home as well as at work, whether social or financial, we are more vulnerable to extortion now than we’ve ever been before. Extortion is no longer only about creepy phone calls with demands for ransom payments. Anybody who has the ability to gain access to your accounts has the opportunity to extort us and demand ransom payments. These attacks are also called ‘ransomware’ and are already taking place in the US and Europe. The virus used for these attacks is called the ‘cryptolocker’ virus. While these may not be very common yet, within the next 10-15 years they will be as widespread as the spam you find in your email box. Because prevention isn’t always 100% effective, organisations need to understand the importance of implementing a powerful response capability in order to detect and respond to incidents of cyber extortion.
Brick attacks can erase your existence
We’ve all heard about stolen credit card details, account takeovers and bank fraud. But those aren’t the only things you have to be concerned about. Imagine what would happen if your bank accounts were completely erased? This is what happens with the so-called ‘brick attacks’. Instead of ‘just’ trying to steal money, hackers simply destroy all the information by using malware to infect the computers that store your information, rendering them completely useless. They can disable your firewall and block your antivirus programs by altering settings. In 2012, the world’s largest oil company Saudi Aramco, was hit by a brick attack, destroying no less than 3,000 computers. A few similar incidents have already taken place. Now picture hackers targeting major banks and client account details...
The human body as target for cyber attacks
Not only are all things hackable – humans are becoming easy targets for cyber attacks as well. If you imagine hundreds of thousands of medical devices hooked up to the IoT, such as diabetic insulin pumps, cochlear implants, cardioverter-defibrillators and pacemakers, it’s not hard to understand that if your doctor can access your heart online, your next-door neighbour can do it as well. Hackers could take control of these devices and compromise the patient’s medical privacy, their bodily integrity, and indeed, their safety. In the future, chronic disease will mainly be controlled by implanted devices measuring vital statistics which are reported back to the doctors. As the use of wireless technology for medical devices is becoming more widespread, any medical system or implant could easily be hijacked. Research by the University of Liverpool has indicated that it’s possible to spread computer viruses via Wi-Fi routers. This poses a serious risk, particularly for patients with medical implants. A compromised Wi-Fi network could therefore also be used to spread medical viruses to patients. While the potential risk of human cyber attacks might not be very high at this point, we need to implement robust security systems into the IoT in order to protect our safety.
Video credits: XPRIZE
Cyber-jacking can make an aeroplane disappear off the radar
Criminals or terrorists planning to hijack an aeroplane can do this remotely; they can simply cyber-jack the plane which means they no longer have to bother with physicalities such as forcing the pilot to change course (of flying the plane themselves) and taking hostages. There have even been speculations about Malaysian Air flight 370’s mysterious disappearance being the result of cyber-jacking. Cyber-jacking could range from attacking ground-based systems that the plane needs to rely on, to infiltrating the aeroplane’s flight management system. Other hijacking methods could include the interference with air traffic control transmissions or even infecting the system with so-called ghost planes to replace the actual aeroplanes so they can literally disappear off the radar. When cyber-jackers enter an aircraft’s computer, they can manipulate the steering of the plane and change the course or cause the plane to crash by setting a collision course with another aircraft.
Identity theft and genetic data hacking
If you think the identity theft situation is a problem now, you should think again. Biometric security, such as iris and fingerprint scans and voice recognition, is not very widespread yet. As soon as it gets implemented on a wider scale, however, such as to authenticate your online profiles like bank accounts, biometric data will become a valuable commodity for cyber criminals. Then there’s genetic data. Genetic testing is done for various reasons – to rule out or confirm genetic disease, to screen newborn babies or to determine whether you would make a good sperm donor. This data and any other medical information is vulnerable to hacking by organised cybercriminals or for marketing purposes. Imagine being approached and asked whether you would like to become a sperm donor because you have very favourable genetic traits or whether you would consider donating blood because you have a rare blood type. Companies can actually buy DNA databases which contain tens of thousands of genomes.
With our increased dependency on technology we are also becoming more and more vulnerable to cyber crime. There are all kinds of ways in which cyber criminals can gain access to and use our sensitive information, some of which are hard to imagine. The criminals of the future are not restricted by factors such as physical proximity and the availability of weapons. We’ll have to be more and more vigilant in the future and think twice before sharing any type of personal information.