Cyber-threats are growing exponentially, and no one really knows how to stop them. A couple of weeks ago, the notable one was the hacking of Sony’s PlayStation game system.
This week it is the bold invasion of Lockheed Martin, a leading U.S. defense contractor. This was characterized as a “significant and tenacious attack.” Then we learned that PBS had also been hacked. The hackers altered a website for the PBS show NewsHour placing a bogus article telling readers that rapper Tupac Shakur, murdered 15 years ago was still alive.
Nothing is safe in today’s internetworked digital world. Microsoft recently warned that one out of every fourteen pieces of software we are told to download to watch videos or Web pages contains “malware.” That means it may invade your computer and leave remnants to enable the invaders access to control your computer. This kind of result is what Sony feared as an outcome of the PlayStation attack. Howard Stronger, Sony CEO admitted that the company wasn’t sure it knew how to stop such attacks.
Honestly, if every cyber-attack were covered in the mainstream news media there would be no room for any other news. There are thousands of them every day. Some countries, like India seem to be even more concerned than we are. Finally, after years of burying its head in the sand, the US government is paying attention. Many of these attacks originate from countries we are uncomfortable about anyway: Russia, China and Middle Eastern countries.
The Pentagon has decreed that a cyber attack can constitute an “Act of War” and warrant aggressive, physical counter-attacks. The problem is the same as always. How does the government know where to direct the counter-attack? The hacker may have used a computer for his/her invasion and then “moved on,” leaving nothing but the hardware and its Internet connection behind.
If you are one of the billions of cell phone users in today’s digital world, you are vulnerable. If you have a PC too, you are more vulnerable. Even the previously safer Apple Macs are getting hacker attention as their market share grows. The wonderful, magical world of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are nothing but a new playground for malicious hackers.
Anything you put out there is in the public domain “forever.” Anything you think is secure might not be. Nobody has a good solution except for everybody to be very cautious—and that is something the general public has shown a great reluctance to do. Any attachment you open might contain malware. If your system scans it and declares it safe, it may be safe, or it may not. The hackers may have cracked your anti-virus protection—or maybe you have not kept it up to date (a much more likely event).
Bottom line: All good things can be turned into bad things. The globally networked digital world we all rely on is no exception. This magical world is as fragile and vulnerable as your new car parked on a dark street in a bad part of town. Come back to it and it might be covered with graffiti or have parts missing. Hackers are the modern equivalent of malicious vandals and criminals. There is no happy ending to this story.
The best policy is to be aware and wary, to be careful and suspicious, and to stop the spread of malware. Don’t open files with .exe suffixes. Stop using “reply to all” and/or “Fwd to your whole address book” for the numerous videos and graphic attachments no matter how funny they are. The one you open that is a virus or other malware will be no laughing matter. Your very digital life as you know it might end, right then and there. And that’s no joke.