AFA Conference Discussion: Emerging Cyber-Threats on the Web

As technology becomes more prevalent and people increasingly turn to the Internet to manage their lives, cyber criminals are keeping pace and causing millions of dollars of damage and loss of productivity. Dr. Neil Daswani discussed some of the common types of cyber threats and what people, and organizations like the Department of Defense, can do to minimize those threats.
Two common types of Internet damage include data breaches and malware.

Data Breaches have caused big problems in recent years. TJX (parent company of TJ Maxx and Marshalls), the Veterans Affairs Administration, and CardSystems credit card payment processors were all victims of major data breaches where information was stolen. The theft generally affects customers (the end user) of the organization that is breached and can result in stolen money, or stolen identity. Breaches are a big problem because millions of people can be affected at once.

How do data breaches occur? The three most common events resulting in theft are stolen equipment (35%), lost equipment (5%), hacking (60%). These breaches have resulted in over 230 million lost or stolen customer records since 2005. It is not surprising that hacking is the most common form of theft. Because criminals are keeping up with technology, it is imperative that when developing a Website or new software, you have to assume that criminals will try to hack into it and steal information.

What can we do to protect ourselves?
Dr. Daswani suggested that individuals and organizations alike arm and educate themselves. He recommended some online resources to learn about security.

He also suggested that a security czar is elected for each project and you create a secure development lifecycle.

Malware results in damage to your network or computer when somebody captures your keystrokes, thereby resulting in stolen usernames and passwords. The end results could be that your system is forced to join a botnet (network of bad machines) and sends email spam from your machine, among other countless malicious acts you may not know are occurring.

What has changed in Malware Distribution?
–Old style: email, peer to peer
–New style: infect web pages and drive-by-downloads.
Because Websites are being targeted more, it is imperative that developers create safer sites, and end users know where they are going online. Many cyber criminals use social engineering to get you to hit their sites (phishing). For example, they might send emails with breaking news headlines that then takes you to a botnet site. When you click on the phony link, you are taken to a malware site that may log your keystrokes and you end up infecting your computer. Therefore, malware is a very significant threat.

What is industry doing? To reduce malware attacks, Google, for example, is adding a note to search results that states: “This site may harm your computer.” This warning is added to sites that are known, or suspected, to be malicious. If the end user clicks on the site anyway, Google gives you another warning that the site may harm your computer. The user has to physically copy and paste the link if they still want access.

How can you protect yourself?

–Change passwords on home routers and wifi systems.
–Use a firewall and anti-virus software
–Install patches and updates immediately. Use auto update.
–Make backups or used backup service.
–Use browsers with malware protection (eg. Chrome, Firefox)
–Choose good, strong passwords.
–Use bookmarks for financial sites instead of typing the URL each time.
And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.

Posted by Mr Paul Bove, Air Force Public Affairs