THE DIFFERENT FACES OF CYBER-THREATS
Symantec: Future of Cyber Security Will Be Challenging
Cyber security – It’s an issue that is no longer relegated to only the domain of the desktop and notebook PCs. These days, hackers and infiltrators have already started attacking the avenue of smart devices, and with good reason. In today’s world, every electronic devices that you hold – your personal smartphone, your tablet or smartwatch, in your car or even your house – is in some way or another a computer, or a device that is connected and controlled directly by a computer.
But how did it all start, and just how far has cyber security and the threat of insidious and malicious hackers evolved over the years?
The Perils of the Cyberspace
The answer to that question, dear readers, is very extensive. Depending on the severity of the act and commitment of the hacker, a cyber-threat could range from anything as simple as data theft from one of your personal electronic devices, to the defacing of a particular website that belongs to a certain company, or for something far more extreme, the destruction of an energy infrastructure via a remote explosion.
At a recent trip to Singapore, we had the chance to visit Symantec’s new Security Operations Command (SOC) Center that was established for the region. During that time, we got to learn a bit more about how and when cyber-threats and cyber security began emerging, and when they started becoming both a relevant and essential part of our daily routine.
We can categorize the timeline of cyber-threats through five different eras, with each era summarily describing the length and depth of the hackers.
• The Era of Discovery (1986 – 1991) • The Era of Transition (1992 - 1998) • The Era of Fame and Glory (1999 – 2005) • The Era of Mass Cyber Crime (2006 - 2012) • The Era of Intelligence (2014 – present)
Just as life traces its roots back to the primordial soup, the era that hackers first became active began during the Era of Discovery, which saw the rise of individuals who merely hacked into systems simply for the sake of hacking.
This rigorous regime of trying to break the system eventually led to the Transition Era, and by this time, the hackers had a label: Script Kiddies. Armed with a wealth of experience and a better understanding of cyber security, it was also Microsoft’s bad luck that the company would be the primary target of these hardened keyboard warriors.
But the eras where hacker really started to get serious were the Era of Mass Cyber Crime and the current Era of Intelligence. The Era of Mass Cyber Crime was when hackers started engaging in criminal activities: breaking into personal files or government-run infrastructures, stealing information that in turn would be sold to the highest bidder for unimaginable sums of money. At this point of time, the message of the hackers was clear: No one is safe, not even in cyberspace. This message was compounded even further when the Era of Intelligence came knocking at the doorsteps of many companies, both private and government-funded. At this stage, the hackers were getting creative in the way they made money. Rather than steal the information and sell it, today’s brand of hackers have found ways to actually hold your data hostage, allowing them to threaten the hostage with the risk of public exposure of their data, unless they pay them the amount demanded (usually in the crypto-currency Bitcoin).
Taking Up Arms
Needless to say, by the time the Era of Mass Cyber Crime had arrived, countries all over the world began creating new divisions and departments in the military that specialized in cyber warfare. Outside of the military, cyber security companies such as Symantec are continuously developing new ways of dealing with cyber-threats.
But therein lies a problem: Symantec mentioned that the number of hackers around the world who are responsible for some of the most serious cyber-attacks outnumber the number of defending hackers (more specifically, Symantec’s security operators) by a ratio of 4:1. That’s an alarming ratio of attackers to the defenders, and Symantec knows that. But think about this: the problem can easily be solved if Symantec actually manages to pluck some of the hackers from the attacker’s side over theirs. By that logic, the ratio would eventually balance out.
“Even if we were to do that, I personally wouldn’t, and it all boils down to a trust issue,” Peter Sparkes, Senior Director, Managed Security Services, APJ, Symantec, and the person in charge of running Symantec’s new SOC in Singapore, told us in an interview.
“We know that it would be easier to pick these gray hat and black hat hackers from the enemy’s side, but the problem is: who’s to say that these same hackers won’t suddenly turn their backs on us or even worse, only came to our facilities just so that they could conduct their own brand of espionage? Remember, it’s always easier to attack, but it’s always harder to defend.” Sparkes added.
The new Symantec SOC in Singapore was opened in November last year, and will serve as one of the main hubs for the company’s security operations.
The reach of hackers in today’s cyber-era is alarming.
The many different faces of cyber-threats, and the hackers who conduct them.
Hackers are now resorting to ransomware and cryptoware to blackmail potential victims.