Everything – and everyone – can be hacked

Written by on October 26, 2015 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Computer hacker silhouette of hooded manNow, we are completely hackable. There is no part of our lives that cannot be hacked. Hackers, a large minority of whom used to do it because they could, are now earning big money. A reasonably accomplished hacker can earn $80,000 a month, according to this video interview on the Sydney Morning Herald.

Credit card details are, of course, very valuable and very saleable on the dark web. It remains to be seen how bad the TalkTalk hack actually is, but with the CEO saying that it is possible that all four million customers might have had their full details – from name, to date of birth, address and bank details hacked. If it is true, and that is certainly the assumption, that will earn someone a fortune.

But bank details and identities are just the beginning.

Take electricity grid modernisation programmes. Upgrade the grid and you make it potentially more vulnerable. The Department of Energy in the US is investing $34 million in universities that can develop technologies that will protect the electricity grid and gas and oil infrastructure. They have already invested $150 million since 2010. It does not take much imagination to make you wonder if this investment is enough. If someone can cripple the grid, switch the lights (heat and communications) out and blackmail Governments, it is, surely, worth throwing everything you have at its protection.

A recent survey in the UK reveals that the nuclear power plants are at imminent risk from cyber attack. The supply chain can be hacked easily enough because of a lack of understanding of the risks at the highest level. Cyber experts say that frameworks and guidelines need to be developed and implemented quickly. And the biggest problem is ‘portable media’ that can access air-gapped systems. And the problem with portable media is that it is almost impossible to control the use of it. There will always be people who will use it, even if forbidden, because it is so much more efficient that the in-house IT systems of yesteryear.

So, we can have our identities stolen, our electricity cut off and our Governments held to ransom. Surely it cannot get any worse.

Except that we also know that our car can be hacked and taken over, so too our autonomous ships and trucks.

And now, ourselves.

The most popular wearable, fitbit, is (still) able to be hacked, via its Bluetooth ports. Taking a breather in the middle of a run, next to a fellow runner on the park bench may not be as innocent as you think. They can hack, monitor and modify anything that is held on the server, including, apparently, information on your sex life.

Everything can be hacked. And yet we insist on continuing to hurtle down the path of connecting everything that sits still long enough. Entire eco-systems can be hacked, the entire world.

Are there any answers?

There may not be answers yet, but there are some potential ideas. Tokenisation is one and bio-metrics is another. Others will emerge. These new technologies will push common sense out of the window for a while, but hopefully new techniques and common sense will merge to create a more robust solution.

The problem, of course, is that as fast as one set of clever people protect our systems and eco-systems, others are one step ahead, finding the cracks and the back doors and endangering – well – everything.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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