One of claimed “time traveler” John Titor’s most alarming predictions was for a war beginning in 2015 between Russia and the United States. The prediction was made on the old Art Bell Coast-to-Coast AM radio show in the 1999-2000 era. The war would eventually go nuclear and be quite destructive resulting in great loss of life. The good news according to Titor was that the country weathered the physical destruction and came out stronger than ever. With some large cities destroyed it eliminated many governmental sectors and urbanite populations dependent upon government handouts.
Now, in retrospect we know the war did start but not as expected. Some probably pictured ICBMs incoming then a flash of light and then …well you know the drill. Instead it was an invasion of the Ukraine territory of the Crimea by Russian forces. To disrupt defensive operations there was a cyber attack on business and government entities in the Ukraine. From a small room in a building in Moscow a staff of about 20 people released the malicious software that infected much more than operations in the Ukraine. It shut down many banks some even in Russia and most importantly international shipping giant Maersk. Maersk Line is a Danish international container shipping company. There was no flash of light but instead all the computer screens went black. Suddenly trucks were showing up to docks even in far away US with perishable foods and medicines yet could not be unloaded from trucks to ships or ships to trucks. There were thousands of trucks lined up and not moving around the world. Political authorities were notified but were of no use. Maersk from headquarters in Denmark worked 24/7 to get things back up. Obviously they succeeded but at great cost. The war had started. And we are still in it.
So how does this affect you? If you have a cell phone and computer you are vulnerable through your equipment, its operating software, and your personal habits.
Your equipment may not be secure. If you value your privacy and want to protect your personal data you have to be on guard from possible attack. I liken it to the situation of a sniper sitting in his or her nest with a good rifle with bipod and scope. He or she is scanning up wind with the sun at the back and looking for a target at about 500 meters. At this distance the target does not even realize he or she is being scoped. The best thing you can do, as you are the potential target, is be hard to find. If you can’t be acquired the sniper will pick a more accessible target. That is your single best defense. Be hard to find.
Some Smart phones are more secure than others. A review will show you the better ones. Also if you have a router it should be reasonably new say a year or two. There has been tremendous technological upgrading in the last few years and better software patches. Be sure you reboot your router every week. Most people don’t ever reboot so the upgrades never get installed. It may be as simple as pressing the button at the top of the router. It should be noted that one of the fallacies of the specialty insurance field is that you are completely covered when they sell you a policy. They are in business to collect premiums. But if you file a claim they may deny it because you did not upgrade as the small print in the policy said you had to do. If the hack is considered an act of war you will not be allowed a claim as war is typically excluded for coverage. You are best to take the precautions that would be essential to get the policy and forget about the policy.
If you have software on your computer and it is one of the large established legacy systems it is likely very buggy and needs upgrading constantly. One of them has an “upgrade Tuesday” on a regular basis. Also if you have a virus checker and maybe even two different packages be sure to use them. Also do not allow anyone to put anything on your computer via an unencrypted thumb drive. Folks may go to the local library and download a recipe for pie then take the thumb drive home and when installing the document file also inadvertently install malware.
I used to teach at a university where it was common to have to scan the computers after every user left the work station. Some students delighted in installing their latest malware creation on public devices. I and other faculty were infected several times despite our precautions. “Scan, scan, scan” the libratory technician said. I even found one virus on a brand new device straight from the factory. I told the technician and he notified the factory.
Run Virus Checkers Regularly
You should scan your system every day. I have two virus checkers. One I use daily and the other maybe twice a week. Yes, one will catch things the other missed. There are 17 commercial virus check packages out there that I know of and you improve the odds of catching things if you use two. Even if you used all 17 some things would get by. When a nation/state such as one of the usual unfriendly suspects they have smart people and clever devices. But like the sniper example, don’t become an obvious target and they will pick someone easier.
Use Strong Passwords
Current surveys show only about four (4) percent of telephone and computer users use safe computing habits. Change your password once in a while. Make it 20 characters long and include a capital as well as small letter and a punctuation and number and special character available on your smart phone key pad. Keep track on a personal password manager. For example, in a text or document file put the date at the top of the page. Then list the company, the ID you use for user name, perhaps it is your email address, then the password such as “Thisisstupid.@qwerty5”. This would meet the test of a good password. It is at least 20 characters long. That tells someone who is trying to hack your system that you are one of the 4% who is smart and has taken preemptive defensive measures. Most likely he or she will go on and try to hack someone else.
An analogy would be putting the club on your steering wheel of your automobile. Sure, a professional car thief is not deterred but it does give him or her pause as the effort to cut it when another vehicle is likely in the area which would be easier and quieter to obtain. Make it easy for the sniper to pick another target and make it hard to victimize you. A word about passwords would be that you may have a twenty character password but many financial institutions still use legacy software and may only read the first 6 or 8 characters of yours. I found this out from a professional hacker who mistyped his password into his bank account and was surprised it let him in anyway so he called the bank manager and asked what happened.
Some professionals always use the “I forgot my password” option when signing in to an important account. It requires them to go through a second authentication. Trying to sign in to a computer account then the second authentication to their Smartphone means an added measure of security. And it keeps the password changed to divert anyone obtaining a list of passwords in text format if the system gets hacked.
Never open an e-mail from someone you do not know. Just clicking on it may download the malicious software. Even if a big company tells you your account is frozen and you have to click on a link to open it, don’t do it. This is called phishing and is responsible for most hacking of individuals. The big companies do not operate that way. Separately, write to the company with an address you know is valid from a search engine search if you want to double check its authenticity.
Sadly most individuals will get hacked some time maybe even several times. If you keep backups to your files on a daily basis you will reset to yesterday and not to zero. Maersk did that but the backups were running when the malicious attack occurred so their backups were destroyed also. The only backup uncorrupted files were in an African nation that was completely shut down because all the electricity was off as is occasionally the case there.
Small businesses usually do not survive an attack. Most go out of business within a year of a hack. The person who sells me produce at the Saturday Farmers Market has an old truck and $4,000 in the bank. If his account is drained by a Bad Actor (jargon term for thief), then he is out of business.
In conclusion, I have tried to make the reader aware of how serious the situation is. It is not covered on the mass media because they are into other things. But, there is a war going on right now and you are in it. Take precautions and you increase the probability of your survival. Your Best Personal Defense In The Ongoing CyberWar is to have newer equipment, keep your software up to date with upgrades, and watch your personal habits regarding change your passwords occasionally, don’t open emails from people you don’t know, never clink on a link in an email, assume emails from big companies don’t require you to click on an embedded link to do anything. If you are careful and avoid being a target a bad actor may still prevail but at least you will not be the target. – AJS