There’s no other word for the destabilization of another nation through state action other than war — even if it’s done with ones and zeros.
Recent indictments of thirteen Russians and three Russian companies tampering with US elections is a stark reminder. Without hyperbole it is safe to say that we are in the throes of an international cyber war and the damage is spreading massively over the corporate economy. Reports have reached a fever pitch and the costs globally are astronomical. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, damage related to cybercrime in general is projected to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021.
Over the past year, journalists for many news agencies have reported credible studies regarding the epidemic of state sponsored cyber attacks. Wired and The Washington Post among many others have outlined threats that have reached the US energy grid and other elements of US infrastructure. However, the cost to businesses is just as devastating.
While many attacks have been government targeted, businesses are increasingly at risk from state sponsored cyber campaigns. A recent worldwide threat assessment from the US Department of Justice discusses several examples of state-sponsored cyber attacks that affect commercial entities including diminishing trust from consumers, ransomware proliferation, IoT threats, the collateral damage from disruptions of critical infrastructure, and the disruption of shipping lanes.
How Cyberwar Affects Us on a Personal Level
An outcome of cyberwarfare that isn’t usually considered, but a large amount of damage is reflected in human capital. This can be found in the undermining of consumer and employee confidence in the ability of a company to protect data.
According to a recent study examining how Americans feel about internet privacy in 2018, 51% of respondents said their main concern was online threats stealing their information, and over a quarter listed that they were particularly concerned about companies collecting/sharing their personal data. This kind of consumer fear is justified by a seeming lack of ability of companies to protect the data of individuals.
Computing and quantitative business expert Dr. Benjamin Silverstone points out that recent cyber-attacks focus on the information of consumers (rather than other confidential documentation or state secrets which may have greater protection). Silverstone says, “Rather than blaming the faceless cyber-criminals, consumers will increasingly turn to the company that is being impersonated to ask how this sort of thing could happen in the first place. The readiness to share details online, even with legitimate companies, is being affected and this will damage their business in the long term.”
So, how can businesses help restore consumer confidence? You should:
- Increase your budget toward better cybercrime solutions and tell your consumers about it liberally. Proven methods include investing in firewalls with intrusion prevention tools, teaching staff how to detect and avoid malware software, and enforcing strict password protocols to bolster security.
- Invest in two-factor authorization so that consumers feel safer when accessing your product
- Educate your consumer base — it is equally important that everyone be more aware when it comes to cyber attack. Give your consumers regular updates about suspected scams and send tips and tricks on password safety.
Ransomware and Malware Attacks
CSO Online reports that ransomware damage costs exceeded $5 billion in 2017, 15 times the cost in 2015. Accordingly, Cybersecurity Ventures says that costs from ransomware attacks will rise to $11.5 billion next year. In 2019, they posit, a business will fall victim to a ransomware attack every 14 seconds.
But is This International Warfare?
The North Korean government’s botnet has been shown to be able to pull off DDoS attacks and is linked to the wannacry ransomware attack. In 2017, over 400,000 machines were infected by the wannacry virus, costing companies over $4 Billion in over 150 countries.
To protect yourself from ransomware attacks:
- Back up your data often and store in non-networked spaces or on the cloud. Ransomware only works if there is a great deal of data that is at risk.
- Encrypt whatever you can and keep firewalls/two-factor authorization in place wherever possible.
- Keep what cyber experts call the “crown jewels” (the top 5% most important and confidential documents) on a dedicated computer with very limited access.
The Next Wave of Threat – IoT
IoT devices make mundane tasks like scheduling or coordination more convenient. However, proliferation of these devices create cybersecurity risk. Companies are bringing in devices like printers and coffee makers that are avenues for hackers to enter a network. Many experts point to IoT as their primary concern.
A study from shared assessment found that 97% of IT respondents felt that unsecured IoT devices could cause catastrophic levels of damage to their company. However, less than a third of the companies represented reported thorough monitoring of the risks associated with third-party technology.
Here’s a list of how to protect yourself from IoT threats:
- Evaluate what data IoT devices are accumulating and limit raw storage.
- Create policies regarding anonymizing user data as much as possible.
- Apply security patches to any installed IoT device. This can be as simple as making sure you change the default password.
- Vet your devices – make sure you are buying from sources that (you believe) will be around a long time. If the business you purchase your IoT device from goes under, they will stop updating safety protocols.
- Make a diversified plan, just in case major components of your software set up are compromised.
While we may not be soldiers, a war is currently on that affects us all and everyone must be vigilant. Ultimately, communication is key. Consumers rely on businesses to protect them from individual attack. These are individuals who are more likely to remain your customers if you can demonstrate how you are maneuvering to respond to global threats.
About the author
Zach is a freelance writer who likes to cover all things tech. In particular, he enjoys writing about the influence of emerging technologies on both businesses and consumers. When he’s not blogging or reading up on the latest tech trend, you can find him in a quiet corner reading a good book, or out on the track enjoying a run.