Like it or not, we live in a digital world. As a result of widespread technology and connectivity, millions of people have converted important information about their lives into data that is used for a myriad of legitimate reasons.
Unfortunately, this data is also valuable to hackers and other less-than-savory characters looking to make money or cause havoc in our world. Cyber security—also known as information security—is the response to keep these forces in check.
But what is cyber security, exactly? Join us as we dive deeper into this growing sector of technology, explaining why it’s important and what can be done to help keep our data and systems secure.
What is cyber security?
So what is cyber security? Simply put, cyber security refers to the measures taken to keep systems secure. Adnan Raja, vice president of marketing for Atlantic.Net, offers a broader explanation, defining cyber security as the state of being protected against the criminal or unauthorized use of electronic data, or the measures taken to achieve protection.
No matter how you define it, the intent is clear—to keep information and systems accessible to only the people who should have access.
Why is cyber security so important?
Would you like your health records, bank passwords, text messages, personal emails or other private information published online or put into the hands of organized crime? Probably not, as we all have an expectation of privacy and security in our lives.
But let’s look beyond just the potential for harm to an individual. Cybercrime and security breaches are a worldwide problem with widespread costs and consequences. One McAfee report estimates cybercrime may cost the world’s economy almost $600 billion—about .8 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).1 That’s a tremendous loss of potential and a drain on the world’s economic production.
Cybercrime isn’t just an inconvenience for businesses, but it also poses a massive national security threat. Imagine the mayhem if a hostile group launched an exploit that wreaked havoc on our electrical grid, weapons or any number of the essential systems keeping our lives humming along safely. It’s enough to keep cyber security professionals up at night.
Nick Santora, CEO of Curricula says it affects everyone. “As we become more and more connected to devices, the internet plays a tremendous role in making our lives better, but it also introduces unknown risks,” he explains. “From hacking vehicles, energy plants, medical equipment and bank accounts, cyber security plays a role in everyone’s lives.”
What are some common cyber security threats?
There are many tactics cyber criminals use to attack companies and individuals. In 2017, a series of ransomware attacks made global news when hackers crippled tens of thousands of computers around the world by holding them “hostage” with payment demands to regain access. Raja thinks crimes like ransomware are getting easier to commit.
“The multimillion-dollar ransomware industry has grown and will continue to grow with amazing speed in the years to come,” Raja says. “This is in part due to the spread of untraceable cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin and the proliferation of ransomware kits on the dark web, which allows anybody to put together and reap the financial rewards of ransomware attacks.”
Other times, crimes can be more straightforward, like when cyber criminals go directly to the person using a method called phishing. This is an attack that misleads victims to click on malicious links or share personal information. These phishing attacks are often sophisticated and seem credible at first glance. An email that appears to come from your bank’s customer service department asking you to change your password is one example of phishing.
Another common criminal tactic that requires almost zero computer work is social engineering. Social engineering occurs when scammers contact an individual via phone with the goal of getting them to reveal details about themselves. This information can be handed off to a hacker who will then use it to exploit their computer systems.
Who’s fighting back against cyber security threats?
At the front lines of the fight for cyber security are information security analysts, who work behind the scenes to devise and carry out security measures for businesses and organizations. Given the attention-grabbing headlines of late, it might not surprise you to find employers devoting more resources to cyber security. In fact, jobs for information security analysts are projected to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).2
What exactly do these professionals do to protect their organizations against these crimes? “Cyber security experts have to prioritize risks of all types including low-risk, high-impact events and high-probability, low-impact events,” Santora explains. “Examining threats from every angle and using the available resources to defend against those threats are an important part of any cyber security expert’s job.”
In their work, analysts will test their organization’s networks for vulnerabilities, help develop security policies, train users on proper security measures as well as monitor networks and respond to security breaches.
There are also a number of practical ways organizations and individuals can protect themselves from cybercrimes like ransomware attacks. Companies and organizations need to properly train employees on how to recognize and avoid suspicious links or email attachments. They also need to set high standards for password protection—including multi-factor authentication—to keep systems secure. Additionally, Raja says autonomous offsite backup of data is a must for minimizing damage in the event of a breach.
What can be done to help?
Here’s the truth—even the best team of cyber security professionals can’t stop it all on their own. They need everyone to pitch in and be more vigilant. Santora believes we all need to be more aware of the breadth and depth of cyberattacks to truly arm ourselves against them.
“Many times, people think of a cyber security attack as coming inside the perimeter of a computer network and breaking in,” Santora says. “This does happen, but it is not always the case.”
Sometimes, decreasing our vulnerability just means being a little more aware of the risks. “More frequently, attacks occur because of human error or ignorance of what a good process or procedure is for handling sensitive or personal data,” he adds.
Interested in a cyber security career?
Does protecting organizations from hackers and educating employees on security issues sound like it’s up your alley? Maybe it’s time to learn more about what it’s like to work in cyber security. To further explore this growing career field, check out our article, “5 Things You Should Know About a Career in Cyber Security.”
1 McAfee, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Economic Impact of Cybercrime—No Slowing Down, [Information accessed June 15, 2018] https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/economic-impact-cybercrime.pdf
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed June 15, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. This represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.