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International cyberwarfare, global espionage, and how corporations can protect themselves

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The continual evolution of technology provides both consumers and business incredible opportunities, with services such as Artificial Intelligence and automation making our lives more convenient than ever. However, as these technologies evolve, so do the challenges in ensuring our data and finances are kept safe from cyber threats. Society, in general, has shifted from merely embracing the benefits of technology to essentially being dependent on it, which presents more significant opportunities for cybercrime on all levels – from attacks on individuals to industrial and governmental espionage.

This increase in dependence on technology necessitates the development and continued use of cybersecurity systems. Whether it’s an antivirus application on a home computer or smartphone, or a cybersecurity team employed to protect a large corporation, all technology users should have some level of protection from cyberattacks.

What is Cybersecurity?

Each advancement in technology presents new opportunities for those seeking to exploit potential vulnerabilities for their gain or agenda. While malware and viruses have existed ever since computing systems became widely available, the variety and severity of such threats have grown exponentially since the internet’s explosive growth and increased availability. The extensive use of and exposure to so many internet-enabled devices has created the perfect opportunity for hackers to test and develop their skills – from bringing down websites to committing mass data theft and fraud. These actions are known as cybercrime – a genuine threat that all internet users should employ some form of protection from.

Around 3.4 billion people now have access to the internet – roughly 46% of the global population – which presents an incredible opportunity for cybercriminals. It takes tremendous efforts to combat cybercrime, requiring a multidisciplinary approach involving software, hardware, ever-evolving policies, and the people to create, manage and maintain all of this. These combined efforts are known as cybersecurity and are constantly evolving with technology and its vulnerabilities.

What happens when cybersecurity fails?

Although breaches of user account security are the types most commonly seen in the news – such as when large amounts of user data from Facebook or LinkedIn accounts are accessed and made publicly available – it’s typically financial gain or access to sensitive business or governmental information that is the primary driving force behind many cyberattacks.

Unfortunately, cybersecurity isn’t a perfect system due to the continual evolution of technology. This, coupled with the opportunities provided by society’s increasing integration with technology, means that cybercrime will always be on the rise. Therefore, every effort must be made to defend ourselves from cybercrime through an increase in development, education, and use of cybersecurity.

What is cyberwarfare?

As a concept once mostly confined to the realms of science fiction, cyberwarfare is now a real threat to governments worldwide. These days, most superpowers have their cyberwarfare divisions as a part of their military – with some governments even focusing their efforts more towards cyberwarfare than traditional, physical warfare. Although such attacks are currently infrequently reported, they will almost certainly increase in the future.

It could be considered inevitable that cyberwarfare, cyberespionage, and cyberterrorism are on the rise. Due to this concept, Australia – and indeed most other world governments – is now well-equipped to defend against and carry out cyber operations. While cyberwarfare can be carried out entirely virtually, its repercussions are almost always physical.

What is automated cybercrime?

The vast majority of cyberattacks happen manually, usually by an individual or group of individuals, often known as hackers using their keyboards to find and abuse weak areas in a system’s security. Although this process takes great knowledge and skill, it can also be incredibly time-consuming for the hacker. Automating this process would have clear benefits to the hacker, and creating software that could hack a security system in hours rather than days would have clear advantages – and could happen fast enough that the target system’s security is breached before anyone could find out what happened, assuming they found out at all.

To combat this process, automated cybersecurity systems are created to automatically defend from such automated cyberattacks – essentially software fighting software – without the need for manual human input. While this concept may seem far-fetched, it’s already a reality. Automated cyber-attack competitions now exist, where supercomputers battle for top cash prizes.

Cyberattacks on infrastructure

The more heavily we rely on technology, the more impact a cyberattack can have on society. Cybercriminals now can access and shut down infrastructures and access control of machinery and vehicles – all of which can potentially lead to loss of life.

Some examples of infrastructural cyberattacks include:

  • In February 2021, a cyberattack on a Florida water plant raised the levels of sodium hydroxide to a dangerously high level of 11,100 parts per million. Thankfully this was detected and intervened before anyone was harmed
  • Australian healthcare provider Eastern Health experienced a cyber incident in March 2021, which forced them to take some IT systems offline as a precautionary measure, resulting in many elective surgeries being postponed
  • Thirty sub-stations in Ukraine were remotely shut down in 2015, causing over 230,000 people to lose access to electricity. In this incident, operators even lost access to their systems and could only witness the cyberattack

These examples show that increased cybersecurity is paramount in protecting Australia’s economy and society as a whole. The more we embrace technology, the higher our needs for cyber defence and security.

How can I protect myself from cyberattacks?

First of all, be honest with yourself about your current levels of cybersecurity. Do you have cybersecurity systems in place? If so, there are almost certainly areas that can be improved. You could take a look at your organisation’s current systems and then write a report card outlining:

  • Your organisation’s policies
  • Training and awareness programs
  • Technical controls
  • Management processes
  • General security culture

Doing so will help you figure out what you’re doing right and where improvements could be made. For example, the smartphone in your handbag or pocket not only poses a risk to your personal information but could also be used to attack your business. Ensure you and your employees are well informed about cybersecurity and prepared for any potential cyberattacks.

Unfortunately, ensuring your business systems are secure is not always enough, as third parties such as distributors, suppliers, or even customers could knowingly or even inadvertently pose a security risk. Wherever possible, it’s always best to ensure they are adequately prepared and protected from cyberthreats.

Ultimately, it is up to you to ensure that your security specialists and IT staff are adequately trained and qualified to help prevent cyberattacks and that their knowledge is up-to-date and relevant to your particular systems.

Senka Pupacic is the Founder of Top 10 SEO, www.top10insydney.com.au.

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