Technology is making our lives easier, and to do this, it’s connecting us more deeply than ever before. But as the invisible web of communication grows, we become more vulnerable to those who would exploit us. Cybercrime and cyberterror are already affecting our lives, and their effects are broader than you might imagine.
The connected world is becoming a hostile place: cybercrime issues
In the past few years, healthcare has been reshaped by technology. And although it creates numerous benefits for both hospitals and patients, technology also brings cybersecurity risks with potentially deadly consequences. For instance, back in 2015, a group of students from the University of South Alabama demonstrated that it’s possible to hack medical devices without much difficulty. They were able to gain access to an implantable pacemaker and manipulate its functions to produce effects that would likely kill the patient in whom it was placed.
Our critical infrastructure is in danger, too. In the US, hackers are attacking governments, hospitals, and police departments. One such event occurred in Ukraine in 2015, when millions of citizens were left without electricity for hours in the dead of winter. In much the same way, hackers could also attack transportation systems, causing fatal accidents, or water purification facilities, by which cyber terrorists could turn the water system into a biological weapon, potentially affecting millions.
A UK-based company, Pen Test Partners, discovered that child-tracking smartwatches developed by MiSafes could easily be hacked. The smartwatch is connected to a smartphone app that allows parents to see the location of their kids. The researchers used PC software to mimic the app’s communication and access the child’s personal information such as their names, birthday dates, and phone numbers. What’s even more frightening is the fact that hackers could use the same vulnerability to track children and prevent their parents from receiving alerts when their kids wander off.
When tech falls into the wrong hands, no one is safe
Although tech is beneficial in so many ways, if it gets misused, it can cause immense damage. Take 3D printing as an example. For instance, 3D printing is saving lives by providing customised airways for children, but it can also be used as a weapon of crime and terror. Using a desktop printer and 3D files, anyone can print a firearm. Since the weapon is made from plastic, it’s almost impossible for a metal detector or any other similar security system to detect it. Although 3D-printed guns may seem complex and futuristic, some governments are already taking precautionary measures to prevent them. For example, the city of Philadelphia released regulation to prohibit people from printing guns.
How does technology enable terrorism?
Yet another threat that comes with the rise of technology is the use of the internet and social media to spread terrorism. Terrorist groups today occupy cyberspace for recruitment, communication, and the planning of attacks. For example, ISIS uses digital platforms “to build social networks and ‘crowdsource’ terrorist acts”. Its Twitter supporters are setting up new accounts as fast as their old ones are being suspended. And they’ve developed an extremely efficient strategy in which some accounts spread original content while others ‘retweet’ the most persuasive material. Terrorists have been using creative techniques that make the internet an efficient and relatively secure means of communication. Despite being close to its eradication, ISIS is still very much alive in the online world and continues to create online content to promote its ideologies. In January 2018 alone, ISIS’ extremist material included 700 content pieces, which is more than double what it produced in December 2017.
Also, another convenient way terrorists organise themselves is through the Deep and Dark Webs. Almost all sites on the Dark Web hide their identity using the Tor encryption tool, offering users the ability to hide their identity and activity. Tor is used to ‘spoof’ the location, making the user ‘appear’ to be in a different country. And, for example, if the website is run through Tor, it makes it virtually untraceable, even to the most sophisticated intelligence agencies.
Furthermore, terrorists could exploit AI and its weaknesses to conduct attacks, altering its programming by defeating firewalls and other security systems. And the consequences of cyber-attacks using AI technology could be beyond any nightmare – imagine a sophisticated terrorist cell hacking the control systems for nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons.
What can we do to protect ourselves?
It’s clear that we need a legal instrument to fight cyberterrorism and cybercrime. Reducing the risk of high-tech attacks would benefit citizens, governments, and businesses alike. Business organisations and individuals should stay informed about cybersecurity threats. As Raj Samani, an expert at the cybersecurity firm McAfee, explains, “it is about getting that message across to people, showing them the vulnerabilities, the hacks that exist.” According to Samani, “we need to have security and privacy integrated into every part of our life, it should be there throughout.”
Internet connectivity has become the new norm in everyday life, and increasingly, our devices are connected to one another. Moreover, medical implants and critical infrastructure need the IoT to function. But our current security’s soft underbelly is exposed to the dangers lurking behind every corner of the cyber universe. Cyberterrorists and other cybercriminals have recognised the possibilities such openness offers, and they intend to exploit them mercilessly. Only through the concerted effort of experts and governments can we hope to keep ourselves safe.