Within the first 60 days of 2013, an alarming number of international corporations and government agencies faced serious security violations from Internet hacking. Beyond the Twitter, Apple and Facebook invasions, a more ominous threat attacked the State Department, Federal Reserve, Department of Energy and some of the largest U.S.-based news organizations. The evolution of Internet hacking from small-time criminal initiatives focused on individual businesses and consumers to global cyber-offenders targeting national infrastructures is well documented and represents a growing concern for governments and citizens alike.
The computer security firm, Mandiant, recently released a study focused on the activities of a Chinese hacker collective referred to as the "Comment Crew" or "Shanghai Group," which sheds light on security risks to agencies with access to essential U.S. infrastructures such as electrical, gas and water distribution. The study also highlights the expansive nature of cybercrime and reinforces the need to protect public systems from unlawful invasions. The most critical U.S. agencies and structures are increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and experts emphasize growing concerns for the nation's power systems and other vital infrastructures.
Although the average computer user has little involvement with such significant security threats, the increasing prevalence of cybercrime places greater responsibility on consumers to protect their individual identities and personal information from hackers. Cybercrime represents a daily reality for all Americans, as hackers pursue financial data, location details, social media content and business material at staggering rates. Fortunately, basic computer security efforts help protect most consumers from cybercrime and hacking risks. By following the few tips below, consumers may strengthen their defenses against such crimes:
• Utilize up-to-date anti-virus and anti-phishing software, as well as operating systems and application software
• Carefully investigate the information received from any unknown user (hackers easily manipulate email addresses and contacts to appear legitimate)
• Avoid downloading content from unknown users, especially when content was not directly requested (attachments and PDFs may contain viruses that enable hackers to access personal information or even take control of computers)
• Operate on a secured wireless network with active firewall settings
• Do not keep password information on computers and maintain stringent and unique passwords for all system logins
For more information on digital warfare and the evolution of the Internet hacker, see also a previous blog I've written.