Malware to Rule Us All?

In an age of over-reliance on technology, it is just about time governments took the security of the internet and its systems more seriously.

Originally published: 13 Jun 2017 By : Ethan Mclaughlin Ethan Mclaughlin

Why is it happening ?

The society in which we operate at all levels, from the personal to the professional, revolves around technology. From social media to health records, everything, depending on specific parts of the world, is digitized. Unfortunately, many of those technologies are not kept up to the level of security necessary to avoid outside forces taking control. That also makes us more reliant on technology, often at times of need. This could be seen in the UK, where the National Health Service (NHS) system was shut down for the day of the WannaCry cyber attack. As the Guardian reported, 90% of NHS trusts were and are still using 15-year-old systems and are thus completely susceptible to such attacks. Furthermore, criminal activity is always going to take advantage of people’s vulnerabilities. It will also take advantage of opportunities to commit crime, when the resources are made available for them. According to Forbes, the hackers used a back door into the Microsoft system found and stored by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), supposedly for future planned cyber espionage. As governments create tools to hack into computer systems, hackers will continue to look to seize these tools available.

Why does it matter?

T here needs to be more awareness of this issue for three reasons. First, because unless real finance is put into security software and improvements across the board, civilians will remain at the whim of those who understand technology better. For example, the NHS in the UK was using a Windows system so obsolete, Windows had actually stopped doing security updates for it, which hackers could abuse. Second, the WannaCry Ransomware attack demonstrates on a global level that everyday security, for very key parts of society, departs the sphere of traditional common or public national law that offline society has relied on to keep the peace. Law enforcement in cyberspace is inherently more difficult, especially internationally, because of varying geographical jurisdictions and the limited authority of law enforcement agencies. For instance, if an attack takes place in 150 countries, then which country or international organisations firstly investigates it and at what court would perpetrators be tried in is extremely problematic. Third, the problem will get bigger as hackers realize the immense profit it brings. A Russian gang made nearly $90,000 a month from offering services of performing tasks similar to the attack in the UK. If people can find a way to make money, they will continue to exploit it. This attack is a reminder of how unprepared world leaders are for contemporary challenges. Governments need to apply rules of the physical world to cyber weapons to prevent civilian vulnerabilities and damage.

What can you do about it?

First, everyone must better protect devices and other part of technology that are part of everyday experience. Basic habits will make technology safer in our personal lives, which will then also transform professional life and ensure better workplace security. Valuable online resources can be found for example through systems like Coursea and Get Safe Online for online education and expert advice. States should follow the example of international organizations like the European Union, creating a clear policy. Once this process begins, it could lay the groundwork to give more power to intergovernmental agencies such as the International Police Organisation, enabling cross-border cooperation. States should also focus on the security of private sector services such as phone companies, and especially on state services. Governments take the latter more seriously, making sure that the services financed by taxes are kept at the highest level of security. If a state’s government falls short on doing this, citizens can use online platforms to build pressure on elected politicians. They have to make sure cyber security is on the top of the agenda so up to date security systems can prevent similar attacks in the future.

Image Credit: Bleeping Computer

Ethan Mclaughlin briefs from Birmingham, United Kingdom. He is a candidate for a Master of Arts in International Development with a focus on Conflict, Security and Development.