Cyber crime – A Growing Epidemic (With Tips for Individuals and Businesses)

The Information Age has provided its fair share of benefits and disadvantages for society, ranging from the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, to Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg, and the creation of the iPhone by the late Steve Jobs. Citizens rely on technology for many reasons- health, entertainment, transportation, financing, etc. Nielson Company recently released a report that noted the average U.S. citizen spends almost half their day – 10 hours- behind a screen. This does not come as a surprise considering the 81% of adults who own a smart phone within the country (reported by CNN). Online banking is also one phenomenon that has become very common, replacing the traditional act of standing in line at a bank waiting for a teller to assist. Time conversing, sure. Risky? Very. Uploading personal information such as SSN, bank routing numbers, addresses, or even full names on applications and websites hold many risks, as online criminal threats have been on the rise since post 9/11.

As scary as it may seem, cyber crimes are real and highly evident in this day in age. What makes it even worse is their timing as they can occur at any time and any given location. Not convinced? A Delhi man, Mir Rafae, had logged on to the Uber app on his phone only to find a trip to Russia scheduled on his behalf. Furthermore, he had been notified his email address and phone number had been updated (ndtv.com). Although this issue ended up being easily resolved, with no detriment to Mr. Rafae’s finances and other information, not all cyber crimes have positive resolutions.

Hackers tend to make great use of “zero-day vulnerabilities,” defined as untraceable software that can access data, computer software, and other kinds of information. It takes little to no cost for cyber attacks to be launched. An “underground economy” arose and provided support for hackers where they barter sensitive information from victims such as credit card information, driver licenses, PIN numbers, etc. Cyber criminals have been growing in intelligence and finding easier and cheaper means to hack systems.
Many businesses have attempted to buckle down on these threats, yet the cost of cyber security has been a growing issue. Annual spending on cyber security is set to reach a skyrocketing $101.6 billion dollars for businesses worldwide by 2020 (fortune.com).

To make matters worse, most individuals and businesses are unable to fully detect these cyber threats in their entirety- only a small portion of a whole system. According to “Cyber Safety: A Systems Thinking and Systems Theory Approach to Managing Cyber Security Risks” by Hamid Salim, four barriers hinder people and businesses from accurately reporting ongoing cyber threats. The first being defamation of a company and what it stands for. The second would be “self-selection bias” in which people and companies who have not experienced cyber threats choose among themselves to respond to surveys regarding cyber crime, giving fixed responses & ultimately being untruthful for the sake of business. Next, many fail to account for loss stemming from cyber crimes. However, most do not have a means of accounting for such a loss and face time constraints that ultimately hinder their protection from cyber crimes. This leads to the last barrier most people and businesses face regarding cyber crimes – undetected losses where people simply are not aware to any incur.

Cyber crimes are real and occur every day unannounced. Business cyber attacks have hit a record 4,000 cyber attacks per day (entrepreneur.com). Nevertheless, there are ways one can prevent them from becoming victims of this ongoing phenomenon. The first being limitation to personal information and data being input over a wide range of technological devices or applications. The more information present, the more prone one may be to a cyber attack. Secondly, ensure sites requesting sensitive information are encrypted. For instance, sites with an “HTTPS” URL are secure (hint: the “s” stands for secure) as opposed to sites with the “HTTP” URL which can have information accessed easily. Thirdly, updating computer software makes hacking less likely as hackers may not have the ability or technology to tap into newer versions of software. Lastly, make sure to evaluate bank statements, email addresses, and other sources of information regularly to ensure no suspicious activity may have occurred unknowingly. It is difficult to predict how troublesome cyber attacks will become in the future. One thing is for sure – vigilance and caution may prevent one from becoming a victim.