Information technology & cyber security

Jerry Adcock

It used to be that we had only minimal concerns about safety and privacy in our homes and on our computers, and even then it was generally only when our computer was connected to the Internet with a low-speed dial-up modem. Today, our computers no longer use dial-up modems; they use always-on high-speed cable or DSL modems, which mean that our computers are always connected to the Internet or are just a keystroke away from connecting. And it’s not just at home that this level of connectivity has reached into our lives. Businesses too are now always on, always connected to the Internet. As a result of the always-on, high-speed connections that are so common, hacking and spying are not only more prevalent, but also easier and more lucrative. Today’s computers are far more powerful than their predecessors of just 10 years ago. In fact, it’s been estimated that an iPhone 3 has more computing power than all of the North American Air Defense Command did in 1963.

What does is it mean to your electronic safety as a business professional? Plenty. We’ve all seen massive data breaches in the news in the past months and years. Recent articles from around the world have indicated that some models of cloud-connected TVs can be hacked with relative ease and allow the hackers to turn on the embedded TV camera and audio mic and spy on us. Recently, two UW researchers showed that it was not only possible to hack into a modern car using a smartphone and the diagnostic port, but they were then able to drive it, accelerate, brake, turn, start and stop. They drove it from the smartphone as though they were sitting behind the wheel. Granted, there are limitations to the both of these latter examples, but these events show that it can be done, and, in some cases, it is not that difficult to achieve. In fact, not even wireless pacemakers are safe from hacking. And with more devices being web- or cloud-enabled, we’re bound to hear of more examples like these.

What can be done to protect yourself and your business? Like any safety campaign, be smart, be careful, pay attention to your surroundings and use common sense. Install firewalls between you and the Internet. If you can’t afford a hardware firewall or a really good software firewall, then turn on the firewall that comes with your cable or DSL modem and turn on the firewall that comes with your PC. Change your passwords regularly and make them at least eight characters with some complexity, such as lower and upper case and numb3r5 (sic) where letters should be. Try not to use the same passwords for the same types of accounts (for example, using ‘F1nanc1al’ for all of your financial and ‘V1d302013’ for all of your entertainment accounts). Include punctuation marks if your password settings allow that. Hackers depend on weak passwords and the difference in hacking time between a six character weak password and an eight character weak password is phenomenal. In the cyber security industry, there is an expression called the password conundrum; it states that the more difficult a password is the more likely it is to be written down somewhere. So make passwords difficult to guess, but somewhat easy to remember.

What does the future hold? Unfortunately, as we see more information being stored or hosted on the cloud, we will see more data breaches. It is just a matter of probabilities. We also may see some changes in the IT industry itself. As more of these data breaches happen and the regulatory agencies step in, we should see those same companies tighten up on their cyber security, and other companies will undoubtedly follow suit. Some industries are taking note of the lax security and doing what they can to tighten up their cyber security.

You can protect yourself on the cloud, though. A few simple steps like changing your password regularly and tracking your firewall settings can help make your Internet browsing experience 99.9 percent satisfactory and safe.

Jerry Adcock is the program chair of the Network Security, Business and Criminal Justice programs at Charter College in Vancouver.

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