Author Gary Hibberd
On the 29th January I was invited to speak to the insurance company, Bluefin and their senior executives about ‘Cyber’. I’m always pleased to be asked to speak at such events as it demonstrates that the company in question is looking to understand an ever increasingly complex world.
I wasn’t there to speak about Cyber Insurance, or even Cyber Security. But instead I was asked to inject some life into what many believe to be a boring topic. I was asked to show a side of Cyber that many Security professionals hint at, but never fully reveal.
My presentation, was intended not to scare but instead to show what’s really going on in Cyber space.
What follows is an abbreviated version of my presentation… I hope you enjoy it. Don’t let it give you nightmares!
It all starts here
In 1984 the Internet consisted of 1,000 computers hardwired together. But 5 years later, Sir Tim Berners-Lee introduced the world to a new language, HTML –Hyper-text Mark Up Language and with this he ushered in a new industrial revolution known the World Wide Web.
Everything we have now pretty much stems from that moment and when you look at what has happened in just 20 years, since Google started we certainly have come along way – fast! From just a few PC’s interconnected we are now living with the ‘Internet of Everything’.
There are 7.4 Billion people on this planet of ours, traveling around in about 1.2 Billion cars. But amazingly almost half the planet use the internet on a daily basis, that’s around 3.2 Billon people and they’re we’re connecting to the web on around 4.9 Billion devices. That may sound like a big number, but if I told you that experts from Intel, the technology giants have said that by 2020 there will be 25 Billion devices connected to the internet! Cars, phones, child monitors, alarms, heating systems, watches, home appliances and more will be wirelessly connected to the internet and communicating with us from afar.
With all this connectivity we are creating more and more data that is being shared in quantities and in ways we never imagined. To date we have created around 2.7 Zettabytes of data! And it is said that more photos have been taken in the last 2 years, than all the photos taken in human history! All that data exists. It lives. It breaths and it has life. By collecting information about you companies can not only create a virtual avatar of you, which tells them what you’re into, if you’re married, what your health is. The information allows them to predict your future. For example, image you go online and start ‘Googling’ the address of the local doctors, and then the opening times of the local Chemists. It’s no surprise that they can predict that you’re next search will be for common cold remedies. Now, for one individual this is quite a stretch, but imagine this is 100,000 people searching for similar things in a particular part of Britain and suddenly Google can predict that the region is about to be hit with a flu epidemic and Boots and the NHS are going to be pretty busy.
This is of course happening right now. Google Analyses what’s happening with all the ‘Big Data’ and can help us in a variety of ways. This is just one of the Good things in Cyber… But there are other uses of the net which are Good.
Cyber is good for democracy as we saw in 2010. The Arab Spring Up Rising was a series of protests and uprisings of civilians which started in Tunisia and by 2011 spread to Egypt. It sparked mass violent exchanges between people and governments and claimed over 100,000 lives and countless injuries. Social media was thought to be instrumental in getting their message out to the world, as traditional media was under the control of the oppressive regimes of the time.
Cyber is also good for business. In the UK e-commerce is the second-biggest economic contributor behind the property sector and contributed £180 billion to the overall UK economy in 2015, which is up from £120 billion in 2010.
But to have light, we need shade and with the internet there is plenty of shade to be found.
To keep it relatively simple we will focus on just a couple of key protagonists whilst looking at the darker side of the internet which are; the cybercriminal and the Hacktivist. The cybercriminal is typical out to steal from you or defraud you in some way. They may target you personally or you may just be one of millions of people they are trying to steal from.
The Hacktivist however isn’t normally motivated by money. They may have a political agenda, a moral cause or religious ideology they wish to impose on others or to promote.
These risks and threats are real and whilst the targets may be companies and institutions the real victims are you and I. But the more we live our lives online the more vulnerable we become, individually and collectively.
Two of the biggest hacks in 2015 were the ‘Talk Talk’ attacks and the hacktivist attack on ‘Ashley Maddison’. One a telecoms giant and the other a dating site. The common denominator being that both have massive stores of information. Talk Talk ‘lost’ 1.2 million records, belonging to 157,000 customers, whilst Ashley Maddison lost 33Million records. We need to remember that this isn’t just ‘data’, it’s not ‘bits and bytes’. It’s PEOPLE. It’s you. It’s me. There are 63Million people in the UK, so having 33 Million people’s data lost is almost 50% of the UK having their information stolen!
So what happens when these attacks take place? Where does all this information end up? In the hands of the bad guys, obviously but it’s made available on the web… the Dark Web.
If stealing information on the net is the bad part of cyber, the ugly side is where it ends up. The Dark Web is an area of the net most people have never been to, and some have never heard of. But be warned: It is an area of the web most children have heard of and a LOT of children have visited.
To get to the Dark web all you need is a specific browser. ToR, The Onion Relay is the most popular tool, but it is certainly not the only tool. But it IS the most well-known and the one which is often referred to when I speak to children(!) Once the browser is installed you are free to visit ‘hidden wikis’ which then give you access to sites including ‘Carder’ sites, where criminals post extracts of credit card information they have stolen and offer them up for sale at ridiculously low prices (e.g. from as little as 2p to 50p per record).
The ToR gives you access to people selling everything from drugs to guns and ammunition. Paedophile sites and cannibalism sites are also to be found on the Dark web, where they’re easy to find but difficult to close down. The Dark Web often doesn’t operate like a business, where data centres are used and can be easily traced. The servers are often cloaked and held in secret locations and in countries that are willing to turn a blind eye to what their customers are doing.
But the Dark and ugly side of the internet doesn’t just hide on the Dark web. The surface can be just as cruel and ugly.
Cyber Abuse, Cyber bullying and Cyber Stalking have sadly become common place in our modern world and those in the public eye now have to put up with ‘trolling’ from online ‘trolls’. In my opinion this term is too ‘cute’ as it doesn’t convey the harm and pain it brings to individuals – how can it be acceptable to threaten people’s lives just because you don’t agree with a persons opinions or their way of life?
But our children are also leaving themselves open to abuse with lax attitudes towards their own security online. A survey in 2015 of 1000 children highlighted that 24% of them had taken a naked photo of themselves and had shared it online with someone they have net met in person. Shockingly 49% thought doing this was just harmless fun. If you think this is acceptable or your kids do, then I would urge you to watch the 9minute video of Amanda Todd. It may change your opinion forever.
The internet is a good thing. I don’t want you thinking that I’m trying to put you off this wonderful invention. I love everything the cyber universe can offer us, but I’m also very much aware of the darker side of the internet. Cyber space surrounds us and we’re living in it. We no longer ‘go there’. We are part of it and it is important to us individually and collectively. There is no going back; Pandoras box is open and we need to look inside.
I would urge you to investigate this world and learn more about it. Even if you don’t understand everything that it contains you owe it to yourself and to the safety of your business and your family to understand what is out there.
I urge you to learn more so that you can guide your business and your children to be a positive influence and part of the cyber universe. If you don’t do it. I guarantee that someone online will be more than happy to – and it’ll be at your expense.
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