January 31, 2017, by David McCauley – The internet is a vast and interconnected world. Cables and computers cross physical boundaries to share information at an increasingly hectic pace. We do business, connect, and share online. The governments of the world rely upon it, and militaries are no exception. Unfortunately, the internet also functions as a secret passageway into even the most secure facilities in the world. Cyber attacks are a serious threat to American citizens, federal and state governments, and infrastructure services. Cyber Security has never been more important.
According to a White House audit, the U.S. Government alone received more than 77,000 cyber attacks in the 2015 fiscal year. This is frightening to imagine because we don’t often hear about these cyber attacks in the news like we do when a corporation is hacked. When a corporation is hacked, it’s regular people who often pay the price. When service members or government organizations are targeted, classified and unclassified information can be leaked – constituting a security breach.
The average American citizen spends more than ten hours per day consuming digital media. More people using the internet means more opportunities for cyber criminals to strike. Seemingly everyone uses the internet in some way – social media, banking online, or even shopping on their phone. Those digital footprints can leave accounts and systems vulnerable to attack. The same holds true for service members, and they must carefully manage their digital footprints.
Millions of U.S. citizens had their information exposed in major data breaches during 2016. Some of the organizations affected include Yahoo, Anthem, Myspace, and the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Many organizations are building up their digital security efforts as a result. Losing sensitive information of this nature is bad for business, and unacceptable for government entities. The U.S. military employs cybersecurity specialists and countermeasures to protect their assets and secured systems.
Many businesses have access to personally identifiable information like names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card info, and sometimes even social security numbers. The theft of this kind of information can be devastating for consumers. Imagine how devastating it could be for national security if sensitive information from the government or military were to become somehow compromised. This is why classified information is so carefully safeguarded and often accessed only via the intranet, typically a service or military specific network that is separated from the traditional internet.
Nearly everything is connected to the internet in some capacity, including the infrastructure of the United States. Communications services, power grids, and many other public systems have gone digital. Certain types of cyber attacks, like those upon the infrastructure, become a matter of homeland security. One challenge that investigators and cyber security experts face is locating and collecting evidence left behind on the internet or in affected systems.
Just like traditional forensics would help solve a crime, digital forensics steps in to gather evidence of these breaches and crimes committed. Digital forensics is the practice that allows investigators to locate and protect evidence of wrongdoing. In domestic matters, it’s not uncommon for the FBI cybersecurity specialists to step in when hacker groups target government and state entities and services.
For regular people who don’t have legions of cyber specialists to protect their information, staying secure can be challenging. The truth is that there are steps you can take to protect your tech and reduce the likelihood of suffering from a malicious cyber attack. Some types of threats are targeted toward a specific individual or entity, but others are more general. It’s not uncommon for individuals to receive an email containing viruses or malware. If the virus were unleashed on your home computer, the damage is fairly localized and might only affect your household. Say that email had been opened instead while at work, it could affect clients as well.
Keeping your work accounts and home accounts separate is important. In fact, many companies specifically prohibit their employees from accessing personal emails or social media from work computers at least partially to prevent this type of incident. The U.S. military often disallows the use of mobile devices in secured locations in part because mobile devices have their own vulnerabilities.
The best deterrent for cyber crime is the safe practice of data handling standards, including the disposal and storage of that information. It is important to follow procedures to operating those systems to ensure that no loopholes or weaknesses can be exploited in the first place.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service, he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.