Cyberattacks are the biggest threat facing humanity right now
Credit: ISTOCK (URUPONG)
Cyber security is a risk to all of us, with the Canadian Revenue Agency becoming yet another target for hackers.
Gone are the days when hackers were a fringe group of nerds in their parents’ basements. Today, the buying and selling of individual information on the dark web is a booming business, with roots across the globe. While the biggest threats posed are of course at the national and financial level, the risk to individual information should be of concern to everyone. It is the role of the Canadian government to prioritize media literacy for all so we can all be protected.
The most common form of cyberattacks occur at the individual level. Many of us have fallen victim to a scam text or email from someone requiring personal information. These “phishing” tactics as they’re called, are purposefully deceiving. They often use threatening language that suggests you will be punished for not offering up information, like blocking you out of your bank account or even jail time.
Those of us who grew up during the popular evolution of the internet are better at spotting these scams; we look for spelling errors or clues that the message lacks some sort of credibility. But this skill is not something that we as humans inherently have.
Even those of us who know what signs to look for can fall victim to a phishing hack. These tactics have become more prevalent and more convincing as hackers have adapted to a world that is slowly starting to educate people on cyber security. Phishing is modern day forgery, a skill that trained hackers can master to make their schemes seem believable to even the most educated individual.
Therein lies the issue. The stronger our national cyber systems become, the stronger cyber hackers grow. The problem with the evolution of technology is that it doesn’t stop evolving, for better or for worse. As we expand our lives into the digital sphere, hackers do the same. Any technology that is developed by our governments for cyber protection can be just as easily manipulated by hackers for cyber warfare.
For example, in October of 2020, students at Western University raised privacy concerns over a third-party software called Proctortrack that the university had adopted to proctor at-home exams amid COVID-19. The software could remotely operate the user’s computer, closing any content that it guessed might have been helping students cheat. The company, which is operated out of the United States, was also capable of storing personal information for up to a year.
Students pointed to how similar the software was to spyware, another form of hacking that allows third parties to view computer activity and operate a device remotely. Since then, Proctortrack has suffered at least one serious data breach at Ivey Business School, though no student data was lost, according to Western.
What we see with the Proctortrack example is that even software created with good intentions like protecting academic integrity, has all the same capabilities of a malicious software. The line between safety on the internet and the total collapse of society is growing thinner all the time. It might sound like I’m being hyperbolic, but let’s look at the facts.
In 2018, Canadian businesses become subject to mandatory data breach reporting. When this process began, reports of data breaches skyrocketed, suggesting 28 million Canadians had been affected by data breaches that year. Combine that with the information we willingly offer up on our social media accounts, including our scrolling habits, personal interests, and geographical locations, we are consistently supplying fodder to malicious cyber attackers outside the country with potentially devastating effects. We’ve seen the way Russian bots have influenced culture through social media in the United States, but the additional threat of hacking and data breaches means the threat to personal safety is more pressing than ever before.
So what can we do? Firstly I think it is the role of the Canadian government to make cyber education mandatory for all students, starting as early as possible. The sooner we can educate citizens on protecting their personal information, the better protected the next generation of online users will be.
But more importantly, our government itself needs to be aware of how close we are to our cyber worlds collapsing. I’m tired of watching U.S. Representatives question people like Mark Zuckerberg on the serious issue of false information on Facebook with little to know understanding of how Facebook works. I’m tired of cyber security education focusing so much on the actions of the individual, when cyber security is just as much of a government issue as homeland security. Yes, we all have a role to play in protecting our personal information, but none of us have the option anymore of going “off the grid.”
Online tools are essential to our work, social lives, and banking. We can’t escape it anymore, and that means we are all at risk. It’s time our elected officials studied up, and started treating cyber security like the priority it is.