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The Promise and Peril

By Dean Whittaker

Technology offers both promise and peril. We see the promise made in medicine, computer science, law-enforcement and many other areas. It has extended our life span and given us the means to feed a larger population.

With connectivity comes opportunity. We have the opportunity to connect to the world (all seven billion of us) but also to invite in those who would destroy us. Cyber security is probably our greatest threat to both our livelihood as well as our safety. Most of us have a “head in the sand” approach when it comes to cyber security. Like in a gambler, we always assume that we’re going to win and someone else is going to lose.

Today, many of the hackers are targeting elderly and small businesses much to the chagrin of the law enforcement. There are numerous examples of elderly being taken advantage of by credit card scams, stolen identities, or a virus on their computer holding encrypted files hostage for ransom. Small business CEOs have been impersonated to financial personnel asking for funds to be transferred to the hackers’ account. One of the more recent scams is to apply for unemployment benefits using someone stolen Social Security number. Recently, a research university’s system was hacked, and faculty research was held hostage for ransom, which they paid. Also hospitals have had their medical records held for ransom (which they also paid).

Above and beyond these crimes, a greater danger lurks in the form of a cyber security attack on key infrastructure. It is called cyber warfare. Cyber war attacks critical infrastructures to destroy such things as water and waste water treatment facilities, power generation, and petroleum refining. These cyber-attacks, when launched, will last 15 minutes. In that amount of time, the entire infrastructure of a country dependent on computers will be shutdown or destroyed.

It is critical that all of us come together around this threat to our security. Pretending that it doesn’t exist or that it will happen to someone else is foolish. The minutes these crimes go on unreported or ignored it makes them more difficult to detect or prevent. When I asked the university computer science faculty about the cyber security issue, she said that, “It’s not a matter of whether you’re going to be hacked, just a matter of when.” She said that it is vital to be prepared by backing up files to an alternative location off site on a separate device (not connected to the Internet), and we should prepare a recovery plan accordingly.

Software firms are working diligently to create new tools and weapons in the cyber war to prevent hacking of our systems and to make things more secure. The real hope lies in cryptology and the ability to encrypt the messages and also secure the transfer of funds. The new block chain encryption technology has the greatest hope for its ability to provide a secure way to transfer funds.

When your system does get hacked, be sure to report it to local officials so they can also send out warnings to other people. Share your way of dealing with it with your colleagues so they, too, can be prepared. If you hear of a new scheme or have been the victim of one, please drop me a note so that I can begin to tally up the various schemes and warn others.

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