I created a painting and exhibited it physically, many artists and people came to see it. I earned money by selling major work that day. But then few years passed and I was told to switch to digital platforms. I was unaware of “Online Security” to be a thing or not to be. Anyhow, I opened my website and also created an account on Instagram for promotions. I began to upload my painting drafts on the portal and once they were published then only I used to post the art on Instagram. I was able to reach a higher scope of audience and revenues were also great. One day while I was scrolling through Facebook I saw my unpublished paintings on a renowned aesthetic painting shop’s page for auction. I was startled to witness my stolen pieces and that some other business was making illegal profit from it.
As a common man I obviously did not have the expertise to comprehend this type of theft. Eventually, I reached out to a friend of mine from computer industry. She was using jargons as cyber space, cyber security, malware, ransomware and cyber espionage etc. While I was sitting clueless she kept telling me about technical loop holes in our gadgets and applications that open gateways to hackers but I was still stuck at my stolen possessions and how to hold these hackers accountable.
All of the above was a supposed scenario but a familiar one. You can also be a target today or five years from now. In this digital age, from common people to professional houses everyone uses social media and electronic media for communication and engagement. It is expected that our dependencies over technology will only grow whereas machine learning and rise of humanoid robots are modern examples of our dependent lifestyles.
Personal data such as date of birth, pictures and occupations that were once very secretly kept in documents have now been trending on our digital profiles. The locks we put for our safety are being compromised by our digital affairs. We may think that what possible harm can be inflicted on us by sharing our date of birth publicly? What is wrong in sharing instances from our lives on Facebook? How does hacking work? Why would anybody be interested to hack my computer? Apparently, there is no grave danger but behind the scenes is a different game. It is important for us to adapt to safer ways in order to pursue our digital lives because there is no such thing as “internet security”, practically or perfectly.
You buy a computer; it has two addresses. The IP address of your machine is like your temporary address that keeps changing with your current residency. Similarly, every computer has a different IP address when it connects to different networks by using internet services and connections. On the other hand, the Machine address of your computer is fixed and embedded in your system. Wherever you may go, your laptop can be recognized by your machine address in the world.
When I ring your bell I can only enter your house if you open the door for me. Similarly, when I send an email from my laptop to you my computer sends a request to open gates for you to receive the message it is carrying. Obviously you will only open the house door if you trust my credibility, that is why computer emails and messages should also only be opened from trusted contacts. It is to protect from harm, the opponent has brought. So spam emails are the same harmful beings. They may be from intruders trying to enter your system to steal your information. Now how can your basic information benefit someone else? Continue with this article.
When we exchanged emails we basically established a connection between our computers by registering each other’s IP addresses using a network. What is a network? You must have heard the term “Global Village”. So all the computers in the world are connected to different service providers ranging from small geographical domains to regional domains. The purpose of these service providers is to lay roads for data to travel on, highways for faster data transfer, underpasses for data safety and dams to store and fetch data from. So presence of several computers under one primary hood is a network that manages data for us whereas the presence of these networks under service providers forms an inter-connected environment of data management and communication on a higher level. Hence, these environments further interconnect with other hubs creating this world a global village. That exactly is a cyber space! Our digital presence over networks for communication forms our cyber “space”.
ONLINE SECURITY VULNERABILITY
With bigger systems come bigger problems. Connection of millions of computers and data sharing is not a fairyland job. Data transfer and management between bigger and rapidly growing systems create system complexities and dependencies. These dependencies make us vulnerable to computer attacks.
For example, I am a restaurant owner and I need to manage my employee and sales information. Now imagine in addition to my company system these groups also need to have a connection with my database; investors, bank, telephone company, national identity authority and delivery office guys. These additional five systems are absolutely necessary for my management system to run because data through my system is also linked to the mentioned actors. Therefore, when I create big systems I have to reside in a bigger environment. So the problem is that more computers mean more gateway access for data-in and data-out. A rival market competitor or an evil enemy can penetrate through any insecure hole of the system by using any minor flaw (in hardware of software). As systems cannot be perfect, chances of cyber-attacks are inevitable.
Right at these terminals our systems become vulnerable. Our six systems may be connected to one secure network but our individual systems would still be a part of other systems. Like my bank would be the bank of several other groups and in several other networks. Moreover, these systems are like a tree, computers are branches and those branches form a cluster. Intruders try to get access to any one weak branch for entry so they can grow, learn the structure of the tree and leash viruses to damage data or steal information. The crux is, intruders try to match a key with your lock to enter your house to either take away something important or cause chaos.
Cyber security is a vast field of practices and policies to keep our data safe and robust against any attack. We have heard some basic practices such as follows:
- Keep updating your system.
- Install an anti-virus software.
- Do not turn down your system firewall.
- Do not open or reply to span emails.
- Do not download data from insecure websites.
- Do not click on unknown links.
- Do not keep names and birthdays as your password.
- Do not repeat passwords for different accounts.
- Do not share excessive information on social media, especially not publicly.
- Do not keep secret pictures in your phones, laptops or even in Cloud services.
- Turn off your mobile location when it’s not necessarily needed.
I hope you understood the concept of cyber security and the point of attacks till now. I will simplify the questions imposed and clarify more complexities when it comes to cyber security for a common person like you or a student. Read the next article to understand the reasons behind the mentioned steps and how can we learn from past attacks to reach some satisfactory level of online security.