According to Cybersecurity Ventures 2017, it is estimated that damages caused by cybercrime will reach the $6 trillion mark by the year 2021. This gigantic sum of money represents the largest transfer of wealth ever recorded in history. In 2017, the damages were only $3 trillion. However, did you know that 93% of all the data breaches that have already taken place, no matter the scale, could have been avoided by taking simple precautions such as backing up data and using up to date software? This shows you that data breaches are very preventable. You only have to take the initiative ahead of time to set up solid cybersecurity mechanisms. The old adage that says ‘the best defense is a good offense’ couldn’t be truer.
So what exactly is cybersecurity? What does it entail? This article seeks to explain this in detail so you know what options are available for you to protect yourself or your business.
We will start with definitions:
Definition of Cybersecurity and Related Terms
What Is Cybersecurity?
Also known as IT security or computer security, cybersecurity is a compound word made up of two words: ‘cyber’ and ‘security’. The prefix ‘cyber’ is a word that relates to the culture of computing, information technology and virtual reality. Security, on the other hand, can be defined as measures that are put in place to prevent an attack, crime, escape, sabotage or espionage.
Cybersecurity can, therefore, be defined as the measures, practices, processes, and technologies that are put in place to protect programs, devices, networks and information from digital attacks, damage or unauthorized access.
A digital or cyber attack, in this case, is an illegal attempt by someone to gain illegal access to a computer or a computer system to cause damage or steal information.
Now that you know what the term ‘cybersecurity’ means, let’s discuss some related terms.
If you wish to be completely secure from cyber threats, you could easily fill your machine with sand and dump it in the river. Doing so would effectively protect any valuable information from illegal or inappropriate use. Unfortunately, this would mean that your computer would also be useless for you the bonafide user as well. I am pretty sure this is not what you would want; therefore, since you need two things: one is to keep you use your computer and two; to keep it secure, it is imperative that you practice good computer security measures. This will enable you to use your computer while also shielding it from external threats.
Computer security is a part of Cybersecurity and can be defined as the measures that are put in place to provide integrity, confidentiality and availability for all the components of the entire computer system. The components of a computer system are software, hardware and firmware.
- The software is the general term for different types of programs that are used to run the computer and its peripheral devices. A good example is the word processing software that was used to type this blog.
- The firmware is the permanent computing software that is programmed into the read-only memory (ROM). It is the permanent software that runs the background processes of the computer. It provides the basic instructions that are required by the computer to communicate with its peripheral devices and also perform basic duties such as the input and output duties (BIOS).
- Hardware can be defined as the physical or tangible part of the computer that can be used to compute a specific pre-programmed process. For instance: a laptop or desktop computer, a smartphone, digital camera or video cam, a television has built-in computer to provide you with multimedia entertainment by using the pre-installed applications and also any device that utilizes the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) technology. This is basically any device, home appliance or any other item embedded with electronics software, actuators, sensors and connectivity that you can control or monitor remotely anywhere in the planet.
Information Technology (IT) Security
Information technology refers to the way people and corporations leverage technology to communicate and store their information. IT security, therefore, is the practice of preventing the destruction, recording, inspection, modification, disruption, disclosure, use and even unauthorized access of information.
Before the internet was invented, people used to communicate with each other using paper mail that was sent through the post office i.e. the United States Postal Services (USPS). Then came the internet and it brought with it another system of sending mail known as the electronic mail or ‘email’. With the email, you could easily and instantly send and receive your electronic mails and this was made possible using computer terminals (or dumb terminals, as others would call them). These computer terminals were usually interconnected to a mainframe computer.
The email system uses its own communication protocols. One is the POP3 (Post Office Protocol), which is the standard email protocol that enables you to receive emails from a remote server to a local email client. POP3 is used to download email messages on your computer or mobile device and even read them when you are offline. Another protocol is the IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), which allows you to access email on a remote web server from a local client. Lastly is the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), which is the standard protocol that allows you to send emails all across the internet. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what domain name you use. Whether you use Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or your own private domain name, the email system works in the same way.
Email now forms a huge part of our lives to an extent that people in big companies do more than just send regular messages to one another using email. Now the email is used to send sensitive documents to other organizations or within the organization by sharing reports with specific colleagues. This is how the storage server was born.
Not long ago, the system administrator had to choose between using the same email server as a storage server to cut costs or use a separate server so as to store and share these documents. As business began to flourish, the system administrators had to use the second option.
The server room is the heart of a company’s physical network. If an intruder were to physically breach inside, then enormous damage would be done not only on the servers but also on the cables, routers, and switches. This is why the computer servers need to be locked away in a secure place.
While locking the server in a secure place is the first step to protecting the server, there is also the possibility that someone with authorized access could choose to misuse that authority. In that case, you need to know who comes in and out of the server room. A simple way to do so is to use the log book so that you may record details of people signing in and out. However good this method may seem, it still has its own drawbacks as well. For example, an employee with malicious intentions can still find a way to bypass the log book. The best solution, therefore, is to automate the process and use an authentication system that is incorporated into the logging process. This may be in form of a biometric or fingerprint scan, token or a smart card, which will be used to unlock the doors and even keep a record of the identity of individuals who make it through the door.
Now that you know what cybersecurity and other related terms means, let’s now focus on other issues pertaining cybersecurity so that you have a full understanding of what cybersecurity entails.
Securing the Flow of Information between the PCs and Servers
Regarding the flow of information, there exist two states and they will help us establish the best form of protection for your information. Information can either be stored or in transit. These are the basic states.
Information can either be stored in a personal computer or in a server and it has to be protected by all means necessary. You can think of this as protecting your belongings by locking the door to your house so that no one may gain access to your valuables. There are a number of ways to protect stored data. You can use firewalls, Intrusion detection systems (IDS), and use of back-up.
A firewall to your computer is like placing security guards at the gate of your building. A firewall is, therefore, a system that is designed to guard against unauthorized access to or from a private network. It is a barrier shield that can protect all sorts of devices you use at work or home.
As data is exchanged between your computer and the servers in cyberspace, the firewall filters all incoming data packets to ensure that they’re safe for your device. If a threat is detected, then the packets are rejected.
A firewall also protects your computer from unauthorized access. If you use a correctly configured firewall installed in a modern operating system, then remote desktop access will be disabled and would be almost impossible for a hacker to remotely intrude your digital kingdom by taking over control of your device.
This can be either an installable program or a peripheral device that you can use to monitor a network or computer system for any suspicious cyber activity, policy violations or malicious activity. These are like burglar alarms but are in the security of networks. The IDS can be regarded as an upgrade to the firewall because unlike the firewall whose only function is to block malicious traffic, the IDS is triggered by malicious traffic and an alarm is immediately relayed to the IT security staff and system administrators who go ahead to block the attacks before they cause any damage.
Backing up your data regularly is a wise thing because it protects your business even if an attack were to happen. It takes very little effort to save a backup of your most important (or all) files in an external drive or in the cloud and ensures that every valuable or sensitive data that may be targeted by people with malicious intentions is secure. For example, ransomware and other forms of malware could disable your system or networks. Without the reinforcement of information, therefore, you could end up losing not just your valuable data, but your business along with it.
You can also secure data while in transit and this takes a completely different approach. Assuming that data is moving from point A to B, the aim is to ensure that any unauthorized party will not be able to intercept it; and if they do, they won’t be able to read it. Information that leaves point A has to be ‘packaged’ in such a way that the user logged onto a computer at point B will receive and read this information.
The only way to do this is through encryption. Encryption is a way of scrambling text and all kinds of data to make it meaningless and unreadable by any person without the keys necessary to decode the message. This is a security measure that you need to adopt because it has proven very effective in discouraging hackers from even attempting to steal your valuable information.
Protection against Pharming (Rerouted Traffic)
The word ‘pharming’ is made up of 2 words: ‘phishing’ and ‘farming’. Pharming is, therefore, a fraudulent activity in which you are redirected to an illegitimate and malicious lookalike website even when you keyed in the correct URL. Upon loading the lookalike malicious website, details such as passwords, usernames and other sensitive information such as bank account details are ‘harvested’ by the cybercriminals. This is a very insidious cyber threat because it compromises the DNS (domain name system) server. This means that even if you are using a computer or device that is malware-secured, you will still be a victim of this malicious activity.
The best way to avoid this malicious ‘misdirection of traffic’ is to use a trusted and legitimate Internet Service Provider because they detect and filter out ‘pharmed’ sites. Another way to check whether a loading web page is legitimate or not is by checking its certificate. On the tab bar of your browser, click ‘File’ and select ‘Properties’. From the drop-down, click on ‘Certificates’ to check whether the website carries a secure legitimate owner.
The digital age has undoubtedly brought with it numerous benefits but it has also reared its ugliest side in the form of cyber attacks. Since the inception of the internet, cyber attacks have been threatened to bring businesses to their knees. Luckily, for you, the few tips we have discussed in this article are effective ways to go around this particular problem and enable you to run your business without fear or losses.
To protect yourself and your business, you can make your business immune to some of these insidious cyber crimes by making use of these guidelines.
by Edgar Vera, MS Cybersecurity