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The Day I Went Dark

smwr cybersecurity Houston Crime Stoppers

I took a few days off during the holidays. I remember waking up with great plans to joyfully and slowly sip away on a warm cup of coffee while leisurely watching daytime shows I normally never get to watch. I planned to put away the cell phone, turn off the computer and enjoy some quiet family time.

But my plans were wildly derailed before they could begin when I decided to quickly check my email and glance at my newsfeed. What a disastrous move that turned out to me. Within seconds, I realized that I could not connect to my email, I couldn’t access the web through my computer and our “smart TV” could not connect to the network. I was essentially “cut off” during what was discovered to be a neighborhood “network outage”. And while the plan was to unplug, the fact that I had no option to plug in literally set me over the edge. I’m not going to lie, I nearly lost my mind. Those lonely, empty minutes went by painfully. It’s debilitating how loud the silence can be…

As I sat in deep discomfort, I thought back to the Crime Stoppers 2016 Gala where our Keynote Speaker at the time, the dapper Ted Koppel, posed this question – What would you do if you could no longer access technology? What would you do if a global attack were to hit our cyber grid and we were all forced to go dark? The thought was quite honestly unimaginable until that wretched morning when I was forced to go dark. And I’ll tell you, it was horrifying.

But as the clock struck midnight and 2017 turned to 2018, I thought about our deep dependencies and our deep vulnerabilities in the cyber age. In our online lives, we are always at risk. In fact, a look at 2017 gives us a good example of this… known as the year of cyber breaches, in 2017, billions (not millions) of people like you and me had our most sensitive information stolen as a byproduct of major corporate security attacks. When major retailers were hacked, it was our information that was taken; when major banking institutions were jeopardized, it was our data that was compromised.

Beyond the break and the risk is the reality that in addition to your everyday criminal, there are teams and networks of cyber criminals whose missions are to create data breaches, security issues and disrupt the good technology is to provide. So what are their plans for 2018 and what do we need to be aware of? According to a recent study by IBM, there’s quite a bit but here are their Top 5 “Security Predictions” for 2018:

  1. Artificial Intelligence Used Against Us. Cybercriminals will systematically be using artificial intelligence to both speed up and automate their attacks. Through “machine learning” they will parody humans making it harder for us to decipher their phishing attacks. As a result, cybersecurity teams will need to use counter artificial intelligence to combat these rising crimes.
  2. Africa Gains a Seat at the Table. Africa is on the brink of an economic boom through a huge growth in technology. Cybercriminals will both target that area but where you and I need to be concerned, they will have their eyes on the US and potential cyber insecurities they can monopolize.
  3. Your Data Held Hostage. We all remember the unbelievable ransomwares that targeted personal computers last year and locked files until the owners paid a ransom. That type of activity is growing. Beware of computers still but now, with the rise of the smart home and smart technology, ransomware will be targeting devices like security cameras, Amazon’s Echo, and connected appliances.
  4. A Whole New Level of Stolen Identities. 2017 was a historical year when it came to stolen identities and security breaches. It is estimated that an astonishing two billion records were stolen. One attack allowed for 50 percent of US names, social security numbers and more to be stolen. That breach affected 143 million consumers! As a result, companies and other entities which rely on social security numbers for security will be forced to find an alternative method and new forms of technology must be created to protect people’s information online. As individuals, we need to recognize that no matter where our information rests, it is not safe. With that in mind, be diligent about checking your records, online information and running credit reports (wisely and cautiously) on not just yourself but your minor children.
  5. Prepare to Respond. With all that took place in 2017, as a community, we were lagging behind the attacks of cybercriminals. This must change in 2018. In Europe, companies are required to report and respond to data breaches instantly and completely within 72 hours or face enormous fines.  This push is hitting the States. Additionally, knowing that each of us is a potential target, we must constantly live aware, on top of our data and ready to respond personally. Push the companies you business with to do the same.

Being a multi-billion-dollar industry, cybercriminals have stepped up their game and will continue to develop the best tools possible to breach networks and wreak havoc. But like anything else, through education and awareness, we can ultimately position ourselves to be one step ahead.

Posted by Rania Mankarious, on 7 Jan 2018

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston