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05 December 2023

Cyber security a complex issue

By Mishal Abdulla Ibrahim Bin Hussain

Information security or cyber security is very complex and difficult to convey, nevertheless to tackle. Security in the early days was evolving around physical aspects such as break-ins, theft, and burglary and so on. Very few realise that the days of physical break-ins are slowly dying. But that is not because the bad guys have stopped doing so.

In physical security there are physical tracks that are left behind by the bad guys which can get them caught, so they have to be extra careful as to leave any traces of them behind, which requires a lot of planning and careful execution. Not to add the physical controls that have come a long way since the early days, with now controls making it practically impossible to break into or through.

Another thing is the fact that most of the fish (money) is now not physically stored but electronically traversing between banks and customers. But perhaps the most appealing things that have allowed the bad guys to commit electronic crimes is the very fact that they can be on the other side of the globe while doing it. The fact that cyber world is connected has made things very easy for them to inflict damage everywhere and from anywhere.

What we do not know is that by sacrificing some of the physical constraints in our everyday lives, we are entering a world full of dangers. It is hard in itself facing the dangers in the electronic world, but as in the physical world, we are always a step behind, maybe more than one step.

In the electronic world a lot of things have to be considered when venturing in the world of cyberspace. It is a world similar to the real world, with good and bad, but in cyberspace, the bad guys can be literally invisible. It is these aspects of the cyber world that have attracted the bad guys to focus their efforts. And as more and more fall victims, the more they come up with ideas to steal your money, ID, or whatever is of value, all that and they have less to worry about when it comes to being caught since tracks are very easily hidden in the cyber world.

There is a whole array that the bad guys can take advantage of, unlike the physical world. They can look for vulnerabilities in the target systems, regardless of whom they are.

A vulnerability can be exploited to grant them access to that system and thus, total control to do whatever they desire. It is easy to fake an identity in the cyber world, to be someone you are not and to do things that you are not supposed to do. This is due to the lack of electronic laws compared to the physical world laws that are very strict and rigid.

The bad guys have changed their focus from attacking systems to humans via their PCs. More electronic security is being put in place to stop the criminals at their tracks. Most people ignore the fact that they need to secure themselves electronically just as they do physically. They do not realise that when browsing the internet, they are connecting to a cyber world and that the whole of this world is connected to them, it is not a one-way connection.

This exposure can result in bad things happening to you if you are not careful. For example, if you are not using an antivirus, viruses can infect your PC and grant access to everyone out there. You can visit an infected website and download malicious software placed by hackers to infect machines.

Organised crime has taken off with special kinds of attacks such as phishing. If you reply to phishing e-mails or click on links within them, the bad guys can lure you unknowingly by tricking you into logging in to your bank or shopping website, and stealing your credentials to and other sensitive information. Strong passwords and data encryption are crucial in keeping your systems, PC and sensitive information safe from the bad guys, as they are continuously trying to break into your cyber life and through that your damage your life.

- The writer is Manager Operations at aeCERT (UAE Computer Emergency Response Team). The views expressed are his own


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