Hacking Our Future; Time to Circle Your Web Wagons

This is the third of four articles in the June series “Mastering our Digital; Recovering the Real World.” which explore concerns about our technological age.

Modern-day spies are not only found within the secret confines of legendary organizations like the CIA, the MI5, or Russian SVR RF. They lurk in front of and within digital devices around the planet. Espionage, which had formerly been conducted to glean state secrets by clandestine operatives is now the purview of troll armies and web brigades such as the Russian company known as IRA (Internet Research Agency).

Images of 007 are replaced by mental pictures painted by President Trump when he questioned the identity of those responsible for hacking our 2016 federal election saying "It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”

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Computer robot programs or "bots" are crawling around the internet.  They spread viruses, collect information, duplicate websites, and capture email. Cyberterrorism and hactivist groups are using these bots to achieve political or ideological gains every minute of every day. 

As of 2012, more bots visit websites than humans.

That means bots are determining the value of websites to potential readers. 38% of the bots crawling our sites are up to no good. So not only are we out-numbered, but nearly 2 out of every 5 visitors to your site are trying to steal information, exploit security loopholes and pretend to be something they are not.

Four Kinds of Bad Bandit Bots

  1. Site Scrapers: This bandit steals and copies web content and posts it in other places on the internet. They rip off intellectual property, customer lists, pricing and other databases. Scraping is responsible for millions of dollars in lost annual revenue.
  2. Hacking Bandits: The bad guys of this bot pretend that they are you.  They steal your identity by hacking entire databases like the infamous Linkedin theft of 167 million account passwords and logins.  Then they sell the information on the dark web.
  3. Spam Bots: These are the nasty critters that collect and harvest email addresses and build lists for sending unsolicited mail. They can send out Trojans which will turn a computer into a spam distributor.
  4. Ad Fraud Bots: Digital Advertising Bots are costing businesses about $4.5 million an hour. Only 38% of all online advertising is human.

The result of cybercrime, digital espionage and data breaches from malware and ransomware is costing billions annually and has created high demand for corporate cybersecurity firms, in-house teams, and enterprise security systems. Lloyds of London Bank recently revealed that cybersecurity is now the most sought after skill among small businesses.  Varonis, a cybersecurity innovator published a list of 60 Must-Know statistics about cybercrime that is very informative and disturbing.

Being Better Consumers and Citizens

In light of the bad bots, individuals, and governments compromising our security at all levels there are measures we can all take.  Being better-informed consumers, alert to personal threats and conscientious in digital behavior is the best answer to cybercrime.  Social media companies, the various media, and governments give lots of lip service to doing a better job but it remains to be seen if they will do what it takes without lots of pressure from us...their customers and their electorate. With another federal election coming up next year there is still no national security strategy to improve on what happened in 2016.  

Four Ways to Improve Your Cybersecurity

  1. Backup Your Data - If all of your data, pictures, videos, music, financial records and other information is in one place, you could easily lose it all to malicious cybercrime.  One simple way to do this is to buy an external hard drive and simply copy everything onto it and store it away.  Do this on a regular basis.
  2. Have Good Up-To-Date Antivirus Software - The best computer antivirus systems will update on a regular basis and keep constant vigilance on your system.  You cannot afford to be without it.
  3. Enable and Use Two-Step Verification - This is a simple way to vastly improve your security.  The most common form of two-step verification is after you log into an account and enter your password, a text is sent to your cellphone which you have to enter to complete the process.  Though slightly annoying, it can greatly diminish hacking. Most every social media site and search engine has a way to set up two step verification. Follow the link above for more information.
  4. Never Use Public WiFi - You might as well write down and broadcast every one of your passwords, personal information, and access to your accounts while sitting naked at a coffee shop if you are going to use a public WiFi.  Just never, ever do it.  While you're at it...Don’t use hotel WiFi either.

Mastering our digital lives means that we have to take control of the technology.  Bots, adversaries, and enemies are betting we won't do it.  My money is on us.