One in every 131 emails contains some sort of malware. -Symantec
So, this happened.
Chaos gripped the United Kingdom as hospitals were crippled, interrupting everything from name tag printing for newborns to major heart surgeries at the National Health Services’ facilities. Commuters at train stations across Germany were greeted by video screens featuring ransom demands targeting the rail system rather than the usual arrival and departure times. The Brazilian government was forced to disconnect computers running the country’s social security system, cutting off benefit recipients’ access to their accounts.
The U.S. was largely spared from the massive cyberattack that used a ransomware called “Wannacry,” but these kinds of attacks are not new and continue to spread. Nearly 76 percent of websites are vulnerable to them.
Cybercrimes compromise more than just your emails and photos. If you’re not properly protected, malware and hacks can lock you out of your bank accounts, destroy your credit and even steal your identity, allowing thieves to open credit cards in your name and saddle you with erroneous debt. Sound unlikely? It’s happened to more than 4 in 10 people nationwide. And security officials warn that more sophisticated cyberattacks are well on their way to becoming the newest form of modern warfare, threatening not just our finances, but our health and personal safety.
Why you should care...
Cyber is the new nuclear, but way more secret. Wannacry, created by–and stolen from–the U.S. National Security Agency, has been linked to similar attacks carried out by North Korea, a country better known for its efforts to build and launch nuclear missiles. Cyberattacks can potentially become just as lethal as traditional weapons (think code-based weapons that target nuclear plants or power grids) but public conversation about cyber threats remains limited. Stuxnet—a malware that can destroy physical targets and was also made in part by the U.S. government—was discovered and leaked back in 2010, as shown in the documentary “Zero Days” (produced by Participant Media). It destroyed more than 1,000 of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, but most of us still don’t know the full details seven years later. Compare that to the breathless reporting over every failed North Korean missile test. The secrecy around cyber warfare makes it more difficult to put proper international standards in place.
Back home, you’re woefully underprotected. With so many everyday devices like phones, cameras, and even your refrigerators and air conditioners connected to the internet, it’s no wonder nearly two-thirds of Americans have been the victim of cyber data theft. Your smartphone can replace your ATM card, request a ride home and process your paychecks, making it a valuable target for thieves; in fact 2.1 million Americans had their phones stolen in 2014. Phone security has improved with thumbprint and better password technology (mostly), but people often do not take advantage. More than 25 percent of smartphone owners don’t lock their phones, and nearly half fail to update their apps with key security patches. Many people still use insecure methods of storing passwords, or choose simplistic passwords that are easy to crack. Sound familiar?
You’re risking your safety over breakfast. The public wifi we rely on to surf the web as we’re waiting for our morning coffee, riding the train to work or staying at a hotel isn’t very secure. Even President Trump’s information isn’t totally safe: reports say federal officials are concerned about the level of cyber security at Trump’s beloved Mar-a-Lago resort, where the president often spends weekends and has been known to conduct business related to our national security.
Your private data could already be out there. Yahoo, now owned by Verizon, has lost user information (think: passwords, birthdates and more) multiple times over the years with at least 1 billion (yes, with a “b”) Yahoo accounts getting hacked. Up to 110 million Target customers had their bank account information stolen, resulting in drained bank accounts and unauthorized charges. And more recently, hackers targeted Amazon’s third party seller usernames and passwords to steal funds by redirecting bank accounts and creating fake posts on Amazon to trick customers into buying non-existent items. Attacks on personal finance information like credit and debit card information were up 6 percent from 2015 to 2016.
...and what you can do. Make sure your security software is updated, and your passwords are appropriately secure. The ransomware attack highlighted the issue of keeping security software updated. Computers using outdated Windows XP software were disproportionately affected by this malware because Microsoft discontinued security updates for the software back in 2014. Microsoft had picked up on the vulnerability and provided a patch to fix the issue back in March of this year, but few took advantage of it, enabling “Wannacry” to cause massive disruptions. Your phone is also vunerable so make sure to lock it and keep your apps updated—new versions are not just used to download new emojis, they also contain important security patches.