Internet security and network vulnerabilities represent one of the most fundamental concerns of our society today. More and more business is conducted online, from international transactions to personal bank account withdrawals. All of our personal, medical, and financial information is available online, to people with the right credentials on the right network — or the know-how to gain illegitimate access.
Recent advancements in information sharing, such as cloud computing and end-to-end encryption, are little understood by most people who regularly employ digital technology in their day-to-day lives. Because of these lurking risks, employment opportunities for network administrators, cybersecurity experts, and other high-technology positions concerned with security in the digital industry will continue to grow over the coming months, increasing in both responsibility and in long-term opportunity.
Here are five of the biggest, most immediate network vulnerabilities currently known, as we proceed further into 2017:
The Internet of Things Will See Greater Amounts of Exploitation
The Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the growing prevalence of mobile and device-based internet connections in place of a traditional computer setup. Recent years saw a dramatic rise in the prevalence of smartphones, then wearable gear in the form of Apple’s watch, but the IoT involves an increase in everything from wired clothing to networked home appliances. Experts worry that the growing prevalence of IoT technology, coupled with the devastating effect that a wide-ranging hack can have on an unprepared infrastructure, will soon prove irresistible to cyber criminals looking to spread chaos across a largely pristine medium.
Related resource: 50 Most Advanced University Computer Science Departments 2016
Omnipresence of Cybersecurity
One of the most-overlooked threats involved in the increasing activity of digital criminals is the growing prevalence of cybersecurity and digital monitoring of networks. This kind of activity is largely invisible to the average internet user, and it is a widely understood fact that the US government isn’t particularly up to par with the nature of today’s advanced digital technology (several prominent social networking platforms would likely have fallen under the cross-hairs of monopoly laws otherwise). By making digital security measures more invasive and disconcerting, hackers might actually cause a popular backlash, in which security measures are reduced to unsafe levels. This is particularly likely in response to measures which are seen as inefficient or ineffective, and it could well be the specifically intended precursor for a targeted attack.
Nation-State Cyber Attacks
We are approaching a new state of digital combat, literally; already, in the US presidential election of 2016, we saw disruptive incidents of hacking placed at the feet, not of terrorists or lone wolf hackers, but of a foreign government agency. As we continue into 2017, the stage is already set for a major incident to be carried out by a foreign power or rogue state against the US, causing a major disruption of services and, potentially, lasting damages. A cyber attack targeting our energy distribution, military, or health services functionality could easily result in loss of life. 2017 could see the first incident of a digital attack being declared an act of war by the US government.
Ransomware: Digital Extortion
Popups are annoying. Popups that don’t go away are more annoying still, but what about popups that can’t be shut down, no matter what you try? You turn off your computer, and once you’ve switched it back on, the popup returns. It partially or completely disables your computer’s functionality, while asserting that you have a particular security weakness. The “service provider” behind the popup offers to make that weakness go away, once you pay them a certain amount of money. This varies widely; it may be less than $100, or it may amount to hundreds of dollars. This kind of ransomware has been around for a while, but it seems that those individuals who were unlucky enough to fall victim to it were simply the guinea pigs for a much larger design. Many of these digital extortion attempts, which cut out all the mess of the typical kidnapping and high risk of exposure, originate from hackers located in southeast Asia, South America and eastern Europe. Now that their technique and method of delivery has been refined, experts say we’ll start seeing this type of attack targeted more and more frequency at corporations and other financial interests. Why shoot for $300, when you could earn $300,000?
This might be cheating, just a little, but the increasing innovation of hackers everywhere is something that experts are warning might be right around the corner. After years of whimsical, comical and dramatically exaggerated hacker portrayals in television and film, hackers entered the realm of the mainstream in a big way in 2016, thanks in no small part to a jumbled US political campaign which saw the work of anonymous hackers featured heavily by either leading contender for much of the race. For decades, network security administrators have put down the sophistication of hackers’ methods; we’ve heard, for example, that half of what we’ve called hacking is people giving out their passwords inappropriately, and the rest is largely calling someone on the phone and sounding like you’re who you claim to be. Now, we’re being prepped to expect new threats, more sophisticated, as-yet unseen methods, and other outside-the-box thinking.
2017 promises to be an innovative and exciting year for digital technology, but new network vulnerabilities will always come hand in hand with expanding capabilities and opportunity. Keep informed as to major developments in internet technology and personal computing, and learn how to stay safe online from some of the most common threats levied against the individual digital technology user.