It really doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned technical professional or someone who rarely looks at the internet (are there any of these creatures left?) – you have been slightly touched by the events which have bounced off, dented and severely damaged the glossy paint which covers the world of technology. We once felt safe and almost oblivious to threats. We thought we could do things in secret and remain undetected on the internet. We thought we could purchase items at major retail outlet without a danger of our information being stolen. We thought that our email was something that only the sender and receiver (along with a few trustworthy security and IT types) could read or access. We believed the fairy tale that the word “hacker” defined someone in a dark, basement room fueled by Redbull and an international spy-like mentality with only an interest in knocking down the corporate giant …not John Q Public. We never realized that we would be swept up so fast and all tied in to the network that controls everything we do – whether it be communicating with each other, entertaining ourselves, making simple purchases, paying our bills or simply just living.
The terminology and words such as “Cyber Crime“, “Hacker“, “Security Breach“, “Cyber Attack” and “On Line Terrorism” moved from futuristic literary references and over dramatic science fiction scripts to the lips of everyone who reads the daily news or speaks to someone over a cup coffee at a family function. During my holiday hiatus – just because I happen to work in the technology sector – I was engaged in several conversations with friends, family and associates about these subjects. To briefly clarify, it was never my purpose to spawn long conversations about cyber warfare or the latest hacking attack with my wife’s uncle Dave or my cousin the pastry chef – but in today’s world it is hard to avoid. These are subjects that have quickly become – mostly during the year 2014 – the stuff that defines the “household word“. Looking back on the holiday gatherings of years gone by, I would never imagined to hear my mother start a conversation with the question, “So, do think that those hackers will break into our electrical grid and turn off all of our power?” Even more grim and shocking was the paranoid follow-up question which stabbed, “How will I cook my food, heat my house and see at night without electricity? Do you think it is coming soon?” My reply was simply, “I don’t know mom. I really don’t know.”
I believe that 2014, like no other time within the midst of modern technology and communication, has caused a radical shift in thinking for the general public. We are all tethered to this entity which has come under attack. What once was a distant “that only happens to other people” reality has become something that is much closer to home. My elderly mother uses a cell phone, a credit card and has an online bank account. Some of my grandchildren – ages 7 to 12 – own tablet PCs, gaming systems and are using the internet every day. I don’t know of anyone who hadn’t purchased holiday gifts on the internet or used their bank card in a large retail store or restaurant during the holidays. A friend of mine recently equated our existence as technology users in today’s society to someone who has habitually “chained themselves to a really smart bomb capable of destroying your life at all levels – one that could explode at anytime and at any magnitude without warning.” A grim and negative perspective but one that I believe now rattles inside the minds of everyone who thought that these threats could never reach them.
Over the past year I have read dozens of articles and surveys regarding how the average computer user and some major organizations have built their walls of protection since becoming travelers on the information superhighway. The crystal clear truth is that they really haven’t done what logic has spelled out simply. Always be prepared for invasion, attack and harm to come your way…even if you think you have nothing to offer. Honestly, most often than not, your “nothing” may be quite “something” to someone else. The new reality is that “data” is a weapon that can be used to wreck your life and the lives of anyone you know personally. Why are people surprised? Why are they just now getting scared that the bogey man is also under their bed? Analysts and security experts have been blowing the same trumpet for years and preaching the same message. Some listened carefully but many more did not. The old saying that “if you know someone really smart there is always someone smarter” has been ignorantly forgotten but has been uncomfortably reintroduced as the realm of cyber crime has climbed to the surface and slapped us all in the face. We should all hope that as we are introduced to the new year we are also introduced to a new reality and think differently about how we function in the now standard world of technology.
If you think you are too smart or too insignificant to protect yourself – know that there is always someone smarter.
Happy New Year. Let us all make it a safe one.