In recognition of the 2010 National Cyber Security Awareness Month, this edition of the newsletter is designed to focus attention on the basics of cyber security and how users can protect themselves online.
Many aspects of our lives rely on the Internet and computers, including communications (email, cell phones, texting), transportation (traffic control signals, car engine systems, airplane navigation), government (birth/death records, social security, licensing, tax records), finance (bank accounts, loans, electronic paychecks), medicine (equipment, medical records), and education (virtual classrooms, online report cards, research).
Consider how much of your personal information is stored either on your own computer or on someone else’s system. How is that data and the systems on which that data resides (or is transmitted) kept secure?
There are three core principles of cyber security: Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability.
Confidentiality: Information that is sensitive or confidential must remain so and be shared only with appropriate users.
Integrity: Information must retain its integrity and not be altered from its original state.
Availability: Information and systems must be available to those who need it.
Different types of data and systems require different levels of appropriate security. For example, your confidential medical records should be released only to those people or organizations (i.e. doctor, hospital, insurance, government agency, you) authorized to see it (confidentiality); the records should be well protected so that no one can change the information without authorization (integrity); and the records should be available and accessible to authorized users (availability).
The average unprotected computer (i.e. does not have proper security controls in place) connected to the Internet can be compromised in moments. Thousands of infected web pages are being discovered every day. Hundreds of millions of records have been involved in data breaches. New attack methods are launched continuously.
These are just a few examples of the threats facing us, and they highlight the importance of cyber security as a necessary approach to protecting data and systems.
Denial-of-service: refers to an attack that successfully prevents or impairs the authorized functionality of networks, systems or applications by exhausting resources. What impact could a denial-of-service have if it shut down a government agency’s website, thereby preventing citizens from accessing information or completing transactions? What financial impact might a denial-of-service have on a business? What would the impact be on critical services such as emergency medical systems, police communications or air traffic control? Can some of these be unavailable for a week, a day, or even an hour?
Malware, worms, and Trojan horses: These spread by email, instant messaging, malicious websites, and infected non-malicious websites. Some websites will automatically download the malware without the user's knowledge or intervention. This is known as a "drive-by download." Other methods will require the users to click on a link or button.
Botnets and zombies: A botnet, short for robot network, is an aggregation of compromised computers that are connected to a central "controller." The compromised computers are often referred to as "zombies." These threats will continue to proliferate as the attack techniques evolve and become available to a broader audience, with less technical knowledge required to launch successful attacks. Botnets designed to steal data are improving their encryption capabilities and thus becoming more difficult to detect.
“Scareware” – fake security software warnings: This type of scam can be particularly profitable for cyber criminals, as many users believe the pop-up warnings telling them their system is infected and are lured into downloading and paying for the special software to "protect" their system.
Social Network Attacks: Social networks can be major sources of attacks because of the volume of users and the amount of personal information that is posted. Users' inherent trust in their online friends is what makes these networks a prime target. For example, users may be prompted to follow a link on someone's page, which could bring users to a malicious website.