As we have become more accustomed to moving our lives and personal information online, those seeking access to our information for nefarious purposes have become ever more sophisticated.
These days we think nothing of punching in our credit card details to purchase groceries while on the go, or accessing our work email on a public WiFi system. However, each time we do so we are potentially handing over our information to any number of people whose goal is to do us nothing but harm.
Indeed “hackers” as they’re known are as much a part of internet culture as memes or hashtags. They may have different motives—some are angsty but incredibly tech-savvy teenagers who just want to cause mayhem for sport, while others like hacktivist collective ‘Anonymous’ act on political or ideological grounds—but they all possess the ability to potentially turn internet users’ digital and real lives upside down.
The risks are all around us and increasing in number, arising from online purchases, search histories, email servers and social media accounts. What’s more, in a world of increased telecommunication where more and more workers aren’t commuting into an office to get work done, the lack of secure servers and internet connections at home can put entire companies’ systems and databases at risk, affecting millions of people and putting billions of pounds at stake.
So the question is, what can be done about it? Our dependence on the internet is not going to slow down anytime soon, so in order to avoid the internet becoming an unbearably dangerous place the responsibility falls to all of us to be cautious. Companies especially must take particular care as they tend to collect and hold large databases of sensitive information. Basic precautions like two-step authentication, complex and random alphanumeric passwords, encryption, installing web-protection software that blocks devices from visiting known dangerous sites, and finally not entering personal data on open and vulnerable public WiFi systems are good places to start.
As a way of learning from our digital mistakes, here’s a look back at some of the most monumental hacks of recent internet history.
Sony Hack: It’s said that North Korean hackers were responsible for the data dump of Sony Pictures in 2014. The motive? Hackers demanded the cancellation of the release of “The Interview”, a comedic film based on the North Korean dictator. The security breach is said to have taken place months before Sony employees came to work and found their system was inoperable. The leak included personal employee data, internal email systems, salary and budget information, and copies of unreleased movies. Though the perpetrators are still not known for certain, the result is not in question: it was a major embarrassment for Sony execs, both in the information that was released and their obvious state of unpreparedness for such an intrusion.
Target Hack: Major US retailer Target suffered a major embarrassment in 2014 when hackers managed to pilfer 40 million credit and debit cards from the company’s system. A portion of these numbers is said to have been sold on the black market to counterfeiters, who then use the information to create bogus credit cards. The episode was a PR nightmare for the company who ended up repaying $10 million to the hacking victims.
US OPM Hack: In what is described as the largest breach of government data in the history of the United States, the US government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found itself the victim of a malware attack in summer 2015. The FBI estimates that 21.5 million people’s records—including social security numbers, names, dates and places of birth, and addresses—were compromised in the attack. Shockingly, this amounts to 7% of the US population’s personal details. The perpetrators and their motive remain unknown but experts speculate that it was done by Chinese hackers, though it is unclear if they were working for the state or independently.
Ashley Madison: Some might say that users of the extra-marital affair-enabling website Ashley Madison got what they deserved when hackers revealed the 25 gigabytes of the company’s data. It was particularly embarrassing for a website promising its customers “discretion”, as it apparently failed to delete users’ personal information even after account deletion, including home addresses, search history and credit card transaction records. In an act that many are calling large-scale karma, many high profile users were publicly shamed.
Be sure to take every measure available to your business when storing and protecting client and company data; contact us with any concerns you may have, or to discuss your hosting solution with one of our experts.