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Were cyber attacks the new ‘terrorism’?

July 3, 2012

In June, thousands of computers in Iran belonging to government agencies and private companies were struck with a highly sophisticated virus named Flame. The virus was detected in other Middle Eastern countries as well, including Syria, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. According to experts, Flame was basically a permanent desktop spy as it can “monitor keystrokes, steal passwords, turn on microphones to record conversations, and take screenshots of Internet sessions.” While the virus was officially shut down by security experts, the question of future cyber attacks still lingered. The UN had gotten involved, calling on countries to seek a “peaceful resolution” in cyberspace to prevent a full on global cyber war. Cyber attacks were not limited to governments, but affected anyone, anywhere. Recently, a social networking site Linkedin was hacked, leading to 6.5 million stolen account passwords. In a world focused on the latest and greatest technology, Were cyber attacks the new terrorism?

Were incidents of cyber attacks on the rise? Yes, another major on line store, Walgreens.com was also hacked into around Christmas 2011. In addition, so was AOL.com. The pop up window warned users to check their credit scores through Equifax.com offering a free look until 11:59 p.m. but it wasn’t free because the prompt urged users to enter a credit or debit card number. Luckily nothing was compromised in these areas for me, but I changed my password on all three of my major e-mail accounts and on Facebook just in case.

What impact would a similar virus have on the United States?  It would probably have been pretty bad if it were a little more organized and the motivation was money, but it wasn’t. Back in 1999, the Melissa Virus infected e-mail servers by overloading them so much that the server had to be shut down. .Melissa infected other documents a user opened in Microsoft Word. It also connected to Outlook if it was running and selected 50 entries in the address book and e-mailed an infected document to those addresses duplicating the same e-mail with the virus, which included mailing lists. As a result, the virus was sent not just to 50 people, but to thousands of people quickly.  The Clinics of North Texas in Wichita Falls, where my sister worked until 2004, was hacked as was her home computer.

Was cyber-terrorism a more credible threat to the U.S. than transportation attacks like 9/11?  This was equal to another transportation threat like 9/11. Since a lot of personal, financial and medical records were digitalized, a cyber attack would’ve been devastating. It was for me at least. In June of 2008, the American Express Fraud Department informed me that my credit card was compromised. Someone used my card to purchase a $655 Dell computer. Because of this security breach, they cancelled my old card and sent me a new one through Federal Express., changing the last four numbers. They suggested purchasing identity theft protection through their company, but it was too expensive

Between 2009 and 2011, for me the duplicating virus, Trojan.Downloader.VBS.Psyme IV was the nemesis for my HP Pavilion 735n desktop computer. It was similar to the Melissa Virus in that it copied e-mail addresses in my AOL address book and sent bogus e- mails to everyone. Radialpoint Security Services didn’t know how to handle this, so removing the Corporate Edition of Norton Anti-Virus program got rid of it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fast enough to avoid someone using that address for fraudulent purposes, so AOL coded the account, which was to have kept this from happening. In the end. removing everyone’s e- mail address except the ones to report abuse or spoofs on AOL, EBay and Paypal.

Earlier this year, the rent check written to the apartment complex in January got stolen when the management put a drop box outside the office door with a lid. The box got jammed the month before after putting my payment in the slot folded. Maintenance unjammed the box after they were notified. Not only was a stop payment put on the stolen check, my accounts were coded with a special four digit number and overdraft protection was added. The only thing a thief needed was the name and address of their victim. In this case, they also had the name of my bank, the account number and the bank routing number.  Four other people had this same thing happen to them also.

How dangerous was Flame and other similar viruses? Flame eavesdropped on conversations, took screenshots and stole data from infected computers without being detected. It had the ability to listen in on conversations and look through webcams. the perpetrator of the malware was able to expand its usage similar to adding applications to a smartphone Analysts said evidence suggested a flame may have been built on behalf of the same nation – or nations – that commissioned the Stuxnet worm that attacked Iran’s nuclear program in 2010, Flame did with one virus what hackers had to deploy with many separate viruses. That meant it delivered a more comprehensive picture of what a computer was used for. Generally speaking, [Flame’s] usability was similar to other malware components that for example, record keyboard activities,” he said. “The unusual thing is that it was complex, highly complex. That meant that there were lots of different functionality modules in the code and therefore the code was enormously large.” Marco Obiso cyber security coordinator for the UN’s Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union stated. Flame had been described as a “data-stealing virus” and “cyber-espionage worm” designed to collect and delete sensitive information. It was capable of taking screen captures, downloading process logs, recording keystrokes, and copying files stored on hard drives.

What were the best ways to combat cyber attacks or online identity theft? It was important to remember these tips when shopping on line:

  • When shopping online, shop only on trusted well-known sites.
  • Change passwords frequently, using numbers. These were kept private.
  • Run antivirus software or anti-malware programs weekly.
  • Never open suspicious e-mails. Report them to the proper authorities by forwarding them. Amazon.com, eBay.com Paypal.com had their own e-mail addresses. Certified mail from AOL had a blue envelope. EBay used user names not e-mail addresses when writing the salutation in the beginning of the notification.
  • Clear all browsing data on the computer, including cookies, cache, downloaded, and temporary files.
  • Shred mail with personal addresses and order forms before throwing them out.
  • Learn how to spot fake or phishing e-mails. All of the major credit card companies had information on this as well as the major on line shopping sites and internet address sites.

Were cyber attacks the new terrorism? Yes, especially since they had become more frequent and specialized, designed to eavesdrop like flame which also took screenshots and stole data from computers. It was similar to adding applications to a smart phone. Cyber crimes were equal to the transportation attacks on 9/11, since most records became digitalized, financial, medical, and personal records needed protection from cyber hackers. It was important to protect oneself from on line hackers or identity thieves by: only shopping on trusted web sites, never opening strange emails, becoming familiar with fake or phishing e-mails, shredding documents and order forms with personal information on them, changing passwords by adding numbers, clear browsing data, cookies and cache files after surfing the internet, and run the antivirus software weekly and keep it current to stop hackers.

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2 Comments
  1. very nice site. good job. keep it up.http://www.kitsucesso.com

    • Dolores,

      Glad you liked my blog. Please make sure and return to read what’s posted in the future.

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