By Graham Croock, Director, IT Audit, Risk and BDO Cyber Lab
The internet has proven to be one of the most significant inventions of our history, however, the unlimited access to communication and information the internet has expedited, has also inevitably positioned us amidst its ills as we have become increasingly vulnerable to the snares of cyber criminology.
The information age which has been galvanised by the World Wide Web has, without a doubt, exposed us to the consequences of globalisation. Never before have we been so exposed to the malicious intentions of hacker’s phishing for valuable data. In the context of cybercrime, the dangers of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and BitTorrent have been the impetus behind cyber-attacks perpetuated by cyber criminals on many unsuspecting users.
VPNs which are virtual in nature, are networks created within other networks. These enable users to exchange data across shared or public networks, primarily owing to the fact that they run on the internet. It is for this reason that the internet is the communications structure for VPNs — they can never be completely private as they abide in the context of the internet, which makes them susceptible to cyber-attacks through hackers being able to identify the IP addresses of the equipment connected to the specific network targeted for an attack.
It is imperative to remember that any device which is capable of accessing the internet and connected to a network has an IP address. Firewalls are among the initial forms of protecting and securing private networks. This comprises of having the best possible firewall technology on either end of the network. However, what remains a constant predicament for a number of users is the cost implications associated with efficiently protecting private networks. Often, users are faced with a trade-off between cost and security.
The dynamics within the milieu of fighting against cybercrime positions defenders — those defending themselves from the scourge of cybercriminal activity at a disadvantage from a cost perspective.
Cybercriminals execute their attacks at almost zero cost. The endowing antecedent for cyber-attacks is the fact that these criminals share vast pieces of code by stringing them together to formulate their attack methodologies. The culminating effect is that it becomes very economical for hackers to launch their attacks, a stimulus in the rise of cybercriminal activity.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, defenders are required to invest extensive time and resources as well as equipment in protecting themselves from cyber-attacks. In light of this our research continues to delve even deeper into the complexities of cyber-attack practices and methodologies.
The information age has also been a vibrant force in the promotion of the immediate consumption of information. With the infinite supply of information and content at our finger tips the internet has become an online supply of data through file sharing and downloading.
BitTorrent has emerged as the fast and economical way of downloading files from the internet. BitTorrent sites are maintained by other torrent users who download, upload and share files with other users to access these files, such as music and movies. VPN servers are often used to download torrents as they anonymise the torrenting activity. This culminates in the internet service providers being unable to determine what users are downloading, even though they can conclude that there is downloading activity taking place.
The main misfortunes that emanate from torrenting is the introduction of malware, a prevalent tool used by cybercriminals to propagate cyber-attacks on unsuspecting users. This originates from the fact that the data files that exist on these site are untrusted, and therefore, hackers use this notion to embed viruses and Trojans.
Another significantly overlooked facet is that of copywriting and legal consequences stemming from downloading content which could be subject to copywriting laws. Education and training must remain at the forefront of preparedness against cybercrime. This approach is the impulse which will spur the surge in awareness among users to employ the necessary precautions required to combat the scourge of cyber criminology. Education and training is the podium that will emphasise users to take full ownership of their engagement with the internet.
Information technology continues to surge, and thus our awareness and alertness to these changes and developments must stay abreast. Hackers have the capabilities to access information about individuals through VPNs which should instead be a solution for users in relation to anonymous torrenting.
Through education and training the internet can be safely navigated by taking the necessary precautions which will stifle the progress of hackers.