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Experts Talk Present-Day Threats to Cyber Security

Three cyber-security professionals discuss the challenges facing businesses and consumers looking to enhance their safety online.

John Molloy

CEO, iKydz Ltd.

Why is cyber security an important topic right now?

The impact that the internet is having on young people and on society in general is profound and has become significantly more pronounced since the dominance of the smartphone. There are incredible educational advantages to having easy access to the internet. But, as we are all acutely aware, it does present some disadvantages, too. Our challenge as parents is how do we manage our children’s interactions with the internet and help them to grow into well-balanced adults with healthy views on relationships? The task of parenting your children online is next to impossible without the aid of parental controls of some form or other.

What are a few of the challenges when it comes to protecting a business or consumer?

One of the main difficulties that both businesses and consumers are facing today is the sheer volume of varying operating systems, platforms, devices and connections that are available to them right now. So, for small to medium sized businesses and for consumers, the challenge is how do they apply security measures to all these platforms, devices and connections easily and in a cost-efficient way? For parents, the problem is often that devices come with their own individual parental control software. You can go online today and get detailed advice about how to enable parental controls on any device. Essentially, the problem here is that these device-control and management services are not integrated across all connected devices. These solutions can often only be deployed on PCs, or on certain mobile devices but not on gaming consoles for instance. 

I’m a parent and I just happen to be an IT professional. I got really tired of trying to apply controls to my kids’ devices and their use of the internet. There just wasn’t a solution out there that allowed me to manage all the connected devices easily, so I created one. iKydz was made for parents by parents and we’ve kept it simple for busy families. It’s easy to set up, easy to use and really, really difficult for kids to circumvent.

Kyle Cronin

Assistant Professor of Cyber Operations, The Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, Dakota State University Madison, South Dakota

Why is cyber security an important topic right now?

Regardless of your level of experience with technology, cyber security will have an impact on your life. This defines the essential nature of cyber in today’s threat landscape; cyber security isn’t something that just impacts technology enthusiasts, banks, or governments – it impacts all of us. 

What are a few of the challenges when it comes to protecting a business or consumer?

Consumers are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to securing their data, as they have little control over how their data is stored and secured. We’ve seen several instances of data breaches that have impacted consumers and left them scratching their heads. Simply put, they had no idea that their data had been stored by these third-party companies, let alone how to protect themselves from such a breach. 

Education is another key challenge for consumers; once a consumer has learned a best-practice method for protecting themselves at home, the threat landscape evolves. 

Businesses face the largest hurdles of all, needing to protect not only their own interests, but the safety of their customers’ data. The stakes are even higher when one breach can impact thousands, if not millions, of consumers in the business arena. This is especially challenging since security professionals have to get it right 100 percent of the time; attackers only have to get it right once. 

How can our readers overcome these challenges?

The first and biggest steps to overcome these challenges is to stay educated. The threats that consumers and businesses face are constantly evolving, so it is essential to be aware of these changing threats. Knowing current trends in technology, both on the offensive and defensive side, are a major first step that everyone can take to protect themselves. 

How do you see the way that we treat cyber security changing within the next ten years? 

The landscape we currently face is largely cat and mouse; defenders are reacting to new attacks. With the advent of new technologies like machine learning, it is my hope that our defensive technologies can become more adaptive towards the evolving threat. Instead of trying to generate signatures of malicious behavior, these technologies can help us predict what good actors look like. Instead of playing the proverbial whack-a-mole, we can instead focus on enabling users to continue working without getting in their way. 

John Mitchell

Mary and Gordon Crary Family Professor of Computer Science, Stanford University

Why is cyber security an important topic right now?

There has never been a more important time for cyber security. Over the last several decades, and increasingly now, more and more people and organizations rely on digital tools and platforms every day. We trust social media to connect us with our friends, the web and mobile platforms for business information and transactions, and financial networks for our economic stability. Governments and intelligence operations, as well as commercial activity around marketing and sales, have developed tremendous stores of complex and sensitive information. When these systems are manipulated or compromised, the potential impact on all of us is staggering. 

What are a few of the challenges when it comes to protecting a business or consumer?

Computer criminals are  often very clever people who work hard and have the support of a very complex and sophisticated infrastructure around them. Rather than picturing a lone hacker in a dark room somewhere, we should all realize that there is a sophisticated underground economy in which sophisticated hackers buy, sell and barter powerful tools and services. If you wanted to break into the computer system of a small company, for example, you could look and find various kinds of computer software to help you do that. You wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. You could build on the work of other criminals  and potentially sell information you steal into a market designed for that purpose.

How can our readers overcome these challenges?

Cyber security is a complex topic that few of us can truly master. The most important advice we have is to leave expert decisions to experts. Take advantage of known, proven and widely used methods and tools. To give one example, many password managers have been developed in recent years, including some available in common web browsers. Follow the simple advice of experts about choosing passwords and use password managers as much as possible. That way, you will be taking advantage of the best methods we know, instead of trying to outsmart experts yourself. Another simple idea is to use so-called disk encryption for your laptop. This is a simple precaution that is built into common operating systems these days and easy to use.  That will protect you if your laptop is lost or stolen. Do the same for your mobile devices. Finally, be aware that whenever there is a chance to steal money by fooling people, someone will try to do that. Don’t click on links in email or send information to people you don’t know. Be careful, but don’t miss out on modern life by being paranoid – there are protections built into the banking and financial system in the US that are there to protect you. So take advantage of modern technology and all it offers, but keep your eyes open and stop to think a minute whenever something seems strange or unusual.

How do you see the way that we treat cyber security changing within the next ten years? 

Data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence are changing many aspects of our lives. The simple reason is that we have more and more data about human behavior and the physical world around us. This data can be used to train machine learning algorithms to do more and more. This kind of sophisticated AI is almost everywhere. As we in the cyber security field work to protect people and organizations from malicious behavior, we will have to cope with more sophisticated attacks that use AI or attack AI. At the same time, however, we can use this powerful tools in new ways to protect the systems that all of us use, depend on, and enjoy. 

Another big change is the development of blockchain technology, which underlies bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Beyond creating new kinds of “coins,” blockchain technology has the potential to take many kinds of data out of the private realm of big companies and into the shared digital infrastructure around us. This could have sweeping consequences, both enabling new kinds of activities and creating new kinds of systems that we will have to protect from manipulation and malicious attack.

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