The Top 3 Cyber Threats Facing the World

July 26, 2016

Over the past few years, cyberterrorism has become one of the most potentially devastating threats facing our world. It seems that in every industry across the globe, the number of cyber-attacks have begun to increase astronomically, putting critical infrastructures and information systems severely at risk. There is even a website called hackmaggedon that collects and timelines all global cyberattacks on a biweekly basis, and business is booming. 

Cyber-attackers design specific software intended to disrupt and destroy information systems, computer networks, or personaldevices to disrupt society or cause extreme financial harm. There have been countless examples in many different industries of late. In the healthcare industry, cyberterrorists target data for identity theft, health insurance fraud and the illegal buying and selling of prescriptions. Last year, hackers breached the UCLA Health System’s network and had access to sensitive information of approximately 4.5 million patients. In the political world, there have been several security breaches in politicians’ emails and agencies’ databases, and these attacks could have global repercussions. Even the entertainment industry couldn’t avoid cyberterrorism – when Sony Pictures was preparing to release The Interview (a film depicting North Korea in a less than flattering light), a hacker group from that country leaked personal emails and data from the studio, causing Sony to pull the film from wide release, and later, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the country. 

Cyberterrorism exists anywhere a network exists, when more than one entity exchanges information over a server. Sensitive and valuable information is the currency these cybercriminals are seeking, and the results are disastrous. The terrifying scope and devastating effects of these cyber-attacks serve as an important reminder that all industries must be on high alert. Here is a look at the three most vulnerable and potentially dangerous areas where cyber threats are the highest. 

Critical infrastructure

Cyberterrorists have begun targeting critical infrastructures, much like the Ukraine attacks of 2015. Vulnerable infrastructures include utilities like power and energy grids, water supply systems, telecommunications and logistics. Critical infrastructures such as these carry tremendous risk, as so many people depend on them to survive. The recent attack on a Ukrainian power grid, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity, illustrated just how severe of a problem this is. The loss of power inevitably leads to losses in food, sewage, and heating systems. These attackers can be individual or state-sponsored, and target what were thought of as impenetrable security systems. As the cyber defense systems set in place become more sophisticated, so too do the counterattacks from cyberterrorists. 

Mobile Devices

The amount of sensitive information people keep on their mobile devices is staggering. Passwords, work emails, as well as personal contact and credit card information and are just some of the vulnerable data that exist on our smartphones and tablets. And there is a common misconception among most consumers that these mobile devices are somehow safer than using a computer. Network exploits take advantage of flaws in a device’s operating system, to install malware without the user knowing. Wi-fi sniffing is another danger; if a site doesn’t use proper security, unencrypted data can easily be read by third parties while in transit. Android-based phones, currently making up four out of every five devices, are susceptible to a bug called ‘Stagefright’, which maliciously compromises a phone’s security simply through a text message. The danger with mobile, or any IoT device, is in how much personal information people feel comfortable storing on them.

The Cloud

Cloud infrastructure has recently become a hot bed of cyber-attacks, due to the sheer amount of critical data stored inside. Individuals as well as businesses keep a trove of important information in the cloud through services such as Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive. Cyber-attackers infiltrate these platforms without the user ever knowing it, and once inside can access a company’s most sensitive information, such as financial records, social security numbers, emails or intellectual property. Ransomware is a popular form a malware being used nowadays. Hackers inject the malware into the cloud, as data is restricted until a ransom is paid. Last year alone, victims paid a sum of $24.1 million to retrieve essential information. 

In any form, cyberterrorism can wreak havoc on an individual or company’s future. Large organizations rarely recover from a destructive attack on their critical infrastructure. These days, data-based companies need constant vigilance to ward off cyber-attacks, constantly analyzing their infrastructure for third party involvement or unusual activity. Cyber threats present an ever-present, ever-evolving set of challenges, and cybersecurity precautions must evolve with them. It is a difficult job, but with a great deal of effort and foresight, companies may stay ahead of the curve, to not let the cyberterrorists win.