The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College

The Centurion

The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College

The Centurion

The student newspaper of Bucks County Community College

The Centurion

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Cybersecurity’s Growing Importance: From the Surveillance Industrial Complex to Your Campus Web Use

Bucks hosted a cybersecurity forum on October 8, with representatives from Microsoft, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and other organizations attempting to promote end-to-end security for local businesses and residents as well as highlight the problems raised by recent cyber events such as Petya, WannaCry, Equifax and allegations of Russian hacking attempts.

The event, which took place on the Newtown campus, featured nearly 20 different speakers, including spokespeople from local start-ups, multinationals, and government agencies.

While computer and data security has been a major problem for a while, ordinary citizens and companies are increasingly being targeted en masse by criminals using techniques such as ransomware. Ransomware usually involves the victim clicking on a link that encrypts their data, rendering it inaccessible until the victim pays a large sum of money to the attacker.

Unlike many previous cyber techniques, ransomware does not require much advanced knowledge of computer code. “Back in 1980, the sophistication had to be huge, but the attack was minimal,” an FBI special agent from the bureau’s Philadelphia division who presented at the event explained “Now, it has switched completely.”

“You used to need to know how to write code,” the agent said. “Now you don’t have to know anything, really.”

Advanced hacking tools have also been spread online by organizations such as WikiLeaks, which continues to release leaked CIA cyberweapons in its “Vault 7” series.

If your computer is compromised by ransomware, “the FBI does not advocate paying,” the agent explained. “Contact your local FBI office.”

“We have 2,500 cyber investigations going on right now,” explained the agent. “We can’t keep up.”

The motives for hacking websites or stealing personal data can vary. Some hijackers are merely criminals desire to make a quick buck. Others include activists such as Anonymous, which has taken down various sites as part of their political and anti-capitalist agenda. Slides shown as part of the FBI’s presentation included the Anonymous logo.

Recently, however, state-sponsored attacks such as alleged Russian hacking of US organizations to influence last year’s presidential election have taken center stage on the list of the bureau’s worries.

In a presentation titled “Current Cyber Threat Landscape and How the FBI is combatting Cyber Crime,” the FBI agent explained the current predicament.

“We’re seeing attacks, basically, on our infrastructure,” the agent explained. Stopping these sorts of attacks can often be more difficult than tracking domestic cybercrimes. “I’m not going to put handcuffs on Putin. I’m not going to put handcuffs on Kim Jong Un,” he joked.

Chris Stafford, an adjunct instructor at Bucks, showed steps that ordinary citizens can take to protect their data online in a presentation called “Internet Security in an Unsafe World,”

“When the Model T came out, there was no such thing as a driver’s license,” Stafford explained “We’re rapidly going to get to a point where big companies demand that their employees get training.”

Stafford suggests that people looking to stay safe online should avoid using Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, or Chromium and switch to Firefox or Google Chrome. He explained that Microsoft’s browsers were more vulnerable because hackers have focused on them due to their popularity, and thus people “reduce their use of [Microsoft browsers] to an only when necessary basis.

He also said that people should “reduce their exposure to the advertising network,” by installing ad blockers. Occasionally, advertisements can contain malicious material designed to infect a computer or steal data.

One tip that was stressed again and again by various different speakers is the importance of prioritizing security over convenience.

Stafford advised that people should use JavaScript blockers such as Ghostery or NoScript Security Suite for “critical machines” and search the internet using DuckDuckGo, a browser that doesn’t track users across webpages, instead of the more popular Google Search.

Ironically, some tools that help keep users’ data secure can end up causing more cyber issues. The FBI has warned that tools such as Tor, an encrypted browser, can help facilitate online crime and cross-border mischief.

“We’re looking and developing ways [to stop this], but so are the bad guys,” the FBI agent explained. “TV makes it look like we can do anything we want…[but] everyone’s behind the curve.”