At first it seems innocent enough. Your hand gently touches the piece as it moves along the table top. But the sensation is strange. The piece responds sluggishly; on its own? Realizing you are no longer in control, the piece begins moving to places you fear to tread, displaying terrifying messages. You receive more than you bargained for as the hand of an unseen, malevolent spirit dictates to you. Ouija board? Nope. Something much scarier. Your computer has been hacked! You recoil at the fake virus message and scramble helplessly as your cursor selects programs disabling your anti-malware software, task manager, and registry editor. And similar to the evil Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, you resign to the ominous voice you imagine speaking to you remotely, “It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your previous computer, are now mine”.
Congratulations, you’ve been hacked by some vigilante computer hacker who probably works at night!
Reading the headlines of any newspaper will inform you of the extent of the problem that cybercrime poses and the enormous damages it can cause. We’re talking about both the short term impacts to the economy, such as when corporations have their bank accounts hacked, but also the long-term impacts like damage to brands and reputations. On a more personal level, cybercrime can drain your wallet or mine, including the theft of a sense of safety. In a survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the second largest professional services corporation in the world, “61% of CEO’s are concerned about cybersecurity and only 37% of organizations have a cyber incident response plan.”
Not even the top firms of the world have the best cybersecurity in place. Rewind to 2010 and you’ll see what I mean. Known as Stuxnet, the virus was the first ever to be able to wreak havoc in the real world. As IEEE Spectrum, a magazine edited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers puts it, the virus was discovered when it “infected the software of at least 14 industrial sites in Iran, including a uranium-enrichment plant.” Without anybody noticing, the virus can easily take under surveillance control systems that are used to monitor and control pretty much any critical industrial unit like power stations, dams, and waste processing systems. Moreover, the virus itself wasn’t discovered until months after it was initially planted - a clear demonstration of the vulnerability in the infrastructure of any country, and of the weak monitoring and defensive systems we assume are good enough.
Now if all this seems like big picture stuff that really won’t affect you personally, consider that hackers don’t see any of us as small game. Every one of us is on the radar. Usually, when a virus infects a computer, it attacks its program files and in some cases even encrypts them. Find that complicated? Don’t worry, because it’s really not. For all you computer novices out there, the attack of a virus on a computer is essentially like removing blocks out of a Jenga tower, the blocks being the computer’s files and the Jenga tower your computer itself. If you keep removing those blocks, without stopping soon enough, your computer is sure to fail. But, how does the virus get on the computer, you ask? Well, electronic communications and attractive features trick users into downloading malicious apps and software that our common phones and laptops have no army against. Devices around us only have limited ability to fight against the most common types of cyber attacks and viruses. However, recent developments in tech and human knowledge have allowed new viruses and hacking methods to persist. As said by Adi Sharabani, who used to work for the Israeli Intelligence, “At the end of the day, everything is hackable. What I am surprised about is that people sometimes forget that it's so easy to hack . . .”
It seems as though there are more keys than locks available on our devices. Turns out the best weapon is not some techy silver bullet. Rather, it comes down to taking certain personal measures. As suggested by the Business Insider, don’t share private information when accessing public wi-fi, never open email attachments until you are really sure of the source, and check files thoroughly before you download anything. So folks, the next time you log in to your computer or play Pokemon on your phone, make sure to never click that glowing star in the upper-right corner or that exciting offer at the bottom of your screen. It’s probably been put there by that invisible, ghostly hand hoping to lure you in.