Cyber Attacks: How Vulnerable Are We?

It is no secret that the Internet is an essential tool for all types of organizations. It allows for rapid communication within organizations and the efficient dissemination of information. The Internet enables workers in different locations to collaborate more effectively, boosting their productivity. However, the heavy dependence on this technology has exposed serious security problems within the nation’s infrastructure. Events in recent years have shown that the US is extremely vulnerable to cyber attack. This has been seen in a number of instances, ranging from DDOS attacks(denial of service attack)  , where the computer or computer system becomes interrupted and does not function as intended on JP Morgan and Citigroup in 2012, to the cyber attacks on ballot machines during the presidential election in that same year. 

Areas of Vulnerability

Our current era of technology has seen the emergence of malware targeting both mobile devices and personal computers. Malware can harvest passwords and in some cases even the answers to security questions. There are larger scale threats as well; considering the fact that much of the nation’s power grid is unprotected, a carefully planned cyber attack could black out key areas of the country. The power grid is especially vulnerable because much of it is antiquated and there are no plans afoot to install upgrades. The nation’s banks and other financial institutions are also at risk as recent attacks on them have shown. If the banks are at risk, then the economy is also at risk. A cyber attack could wreak havoc on financial markets potentially causing panic and considerable economic damage. Other possible targets for cyber attacks include government services, which could result in citizens’ lives being endangered as well as large-scale economic problems.

Cyber Attack Facts

It is estimated that cyber attacks intended to steal industrial secrets are responsible for roughly $4 billion in losses every year. In 2009 alone, the department of Defense was attacked over 40,000 times. Additionally, the rate of malware attacks on US networks and computers has tripled in the years since 2009. While discovering the origins of attacks is difficult, it is estimated that more than 30 percent of them originate outside of US borders. In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning with regard to a wave of attacks against US energy companies that is thought to have originated in the Middle East. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the hackers appear to have been probing for vulnerable points to attack.

Defending Against Cyber Attacks

Possible solutions include government testing of cyber-security measures on vital infrastructure, along with government-dictated security standards. These measures may be effective but are complicated by the absence of laws to govern them. One thing is clear: the solution begins with the people managing the systems. In order for computer networks to be reasonably safe from attack, there will have to be experts in information and cyber security implementing carefully planned strategies. University courses in Intelligence and Security Studies are vital to providing the country with the expertise needed to defend its networks.

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