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The Cyber Threat in the Modern World

Updated on March 16, 2017

Today’s Reality of Cyber Attacks in the U.S. in a Nutshell

Today’s constant connection to the Internet has many advantages, but it also makes us vulnerable to cyber attacks. The number of cyber attacks is rising rapidly, as more and more hackers have access to cheap technology.

Here is a list of facts about the cyber threat in the U. S.

  1. Businesses are not prepared to face cyber attacks. Although there exist regulations to ensure that companies protect trade secrets and intellectual property, some CEOs are either unaware or negligent of the law.
  2. Cyber attacks are on the rise – the number grew 17 times from 2009 to 2011.
  3. The majority of the attacks on U.S. companies come from China and Russia.
  4. Companies frequently have inadequate risk assessments – either conducted internally by incompetent employees or by cheap external firms whose approach is insufficient to assess the nature of the ever-evolving threat.
  5. Companies frequently fail to vet new employees properly, opening their gates to hackers with various interests.
  6. Small companies believe that they are too unimportant to get noticed by the hackers. However, if a company has a website, it is visible to everyone.
  7. The attacks get more and more sophisticated as the technology gets cheaper.
  8. Technological development is much faster than online security development.
  9. Stolen mobile devices are great sources of valuable information.

Transnational Organized Crime

Transnational organized crime refers to organized criminal activity that transcends national borders. Criminals engaged in this kind of enterprise have embraced the Internet as an online black market. The criminals use secure encryption to offer their products and services to anyone with an Internet connection. TOC encompasses virtually any kind of crime: the trafficking of people, narcotics, organs and arms; child pornography; the sexual exploitation of children and adults; and money laundering. Efforts to curb transnational organized crime resemble fighting with a hydra; as soon as law enforcement takes down one illegal site, another crops up. The low cost of technology and the ubiquity of social media websites have made the criminals’ job easy – they use Facebook and Instagram to find their potential victims.

Online Money Laundering

Cyber criminals have to launder money; this service is performed by companies like Liberty Reserve, which was recently charged with numerous crimes. Liberty Reserve served as a kind of bank for criminals; lack of an identity verification system facilitated opening an account with false credentials. Liberty Reserve made it possible for users to conduct business anonymously using a virtual currency, LR. Customers used third-party operations in order to deposit and withdraw money, as well as convert the currency.

Liberty Reserve facilitated all kinds of illegal activity, such as credit card fraud, distributing child pornography, or trafficking narcotics. The website offered stolen credit data trafficking, computer hackers for hire, unregulated gambling enterprises, and drug-dealing websites. Liberty Reserve was also stealing people’s credentials in the following manner: potential corporate investors could create an account to get more information about investment possibilities. If a victim used his or her company e-mail address and password, Liberty Reserve would steal the information and sell it to anyone who could afford it.

Cyber Nation-States and Cyber Espionage

The biggest cyber threat to U.S. economic interests comes from China, which uses cyber attacks as a systematic way of making its economy competitive on the global market. In 1986, China devised Project 863, which envisioned its leading position in the world achieved by trade secrets from other countries, most importantly the U.S. This way, China can offer cutting-edge technologies at competitive prices by lowering the cost of research and development. China has launched so-called advanced persistent threats (APTs), groups of highly skilled professional hackers who conduct cyber attacks in the whole world.

China works in tandem with many former countries of the Soviet bloc – a cyber attack may be conducted from any of these countries. In addition, skilled hackers are able to redirect an attack, making it seem to originate within the U.S. – all this enables China to publicly deny responsibility for the attacks.

Cyber Terrorism

The rapid growth of cyber threat gives rise to questions about whether it could be possible to devise a cyber terrorist attack by tinkering with aviation or attacking so-called critical infrastructure – all assets, networks, and system that are vital to the public. The possibility seems very real, as terrorists have already embraced the Internet as a means of spreading propaganda, establishing communication, recruiting jihadists, coordinating attacks, and raising funds. A potential cyber terrorist attack could target a hospital or an electrical grid.


Sources:

Ulsch, N MacDonnell, “Cyber Threat! How to Manage the Growing Risk of Cyber Attacks”, Wiley, 2014

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