Cybersecuritycomputer security or IT security is the protection of computer systems from theft of or damage to their hardware, software or electronic data, as well as from disruption or misdirection of the services they provide. Cybersecurity includes controlling physical access to system hardware, as well as protecting against harm that may be done via network access, malicious data and code injection.Also, due to malpractice by operators, whether intentional or accidental, ITsecurity personnel are susceptible to being tricked into deviating from secure procedures through various methods of social engineering The field is of growing importance due to increasing reliance on computer systems, the Internet and wireless networks such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and due to the growth of “smart” devices, including smartphones, televisions and the various tiny devices that constitute the Internet of Things. Professionals working in the cybersecurity field can be known by some of the following terms:

  1. White hat hacker – also known as an “ethical hacker” or penetration tester. They are professional hackers that break into systems and use exploits to access target systems for reasons pertaining to prevention of crime or hardening the security of a target.
  2. Black hat hacker – a criminal who breaks into systems and compromises security against the law.
  3. Grey hat hacker – someone who conducts black hat hacks for white hat hackers reasons.

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Vulnerabilities and attacks

A vulnerability is a weakness in design, implementation, operation or internal control. Most of the vulnerabilities that have been discovered are documented in the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database.

An exploitable vulnerability is one for which at least one working attack or “exploit” exists. Vulnerabilities are often hunted or exploited with the aid of automated tools or manually using customized scripts.

To secure a computer system, it is important to understand the attacks that can be made against it, and these threats can typically be classified into one of these categories below:

Backdoor

A backdoor in a computer system, a cryptosystem or an algorithm, is any secret method of bypassing normal authentication or security controls. They may exist for a number of reasons, including by original design or from poor configuration. They may have been added by an authorized party to allow some legitimate access, or by an attacker for malicious reasons; but regardless of the motives for their existence, they create a vulnerability.

Denial-of-service attacks

Denial of service attacks (DoS) are designed to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users. Attackers can deny service to individual victims, such as by deliberately entering a wrong password enough consecutive times to cause the victims account to be locked, or they may overload the capabilities of a machine or network and block all users at once. While a network attack from a single IP address can be blocked by adding a new firewall rule, many forms of Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are possible, where the attack comes from a large number of points – and defending is much more difficult. Such attacks can originate from the zombie computers of a botnet, but a range of other techniques are possible including reflection and amplification attacks, where innocent systems are fooled into sending traffic to the victim.

Direct-access attacks

An unauthorized user gaining physical access to a computer is most likely able to directly copy data from it. They may also compromise security by making operating system modifications, installing software worms, keyloggers, covert listening devices or using wireless mice. Even when the system is protected by standard security measures, these may be able to be by-passed by booting another operating system or tool from a CD-ROM or other bootable media. Disk encryption and Trusted Platform Module are designed to prevent these attacks.

Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping is the act of surreptitiously listening to a private conversation, typically between hosts on a network. For instance, programs such as Carnivore and NarusInSight have been used by the FBI and NSA to eavesdrop on the systems of internet service providers. Even machines that operate as a closed system (i.e., with no contact to the outside world) can be eavesdropped upon via monitoring the faint electro-magnetic transmissions generated by the hardware; TEMPEST is a specification by the NSA referring to these attacks.

Spoofing

Spoofing is the act of masquerading as a valid entity through falsification of data (such as an IP address or username), in order to gain access to information or resources that one is otherwise unauthorized to obtain. There are several types of spoofing, including:

  • Email spoofing, where an attacker forges the sending (From, or source) address of an email.
  • IP address spoofing, where an attacker alters the source IP address in a network packet to hide their identity or impersonate another computing system.
  • MAC spoofing, where an attacker modifies the Media Access Control (MAC) address of their network interface to pose as a valid user on a network.
  • Biometric spoofing, where an attacker produces a fake biometric sample to pose as another user.

Tampering

Tampering describes a malicious modification of products. So-called “Evil Maid” attacks and security services planting of surveillance capability into routers are examples.

Privilege escalation

Privilege escalation describes a situation where an attacker with some level of restricted access is able to, without authorization, elevate their privileges or access level. For example, a standard computer user may be able to fool the system into giving them access to restricted data; or even to “become root” and have full unrestricted access to a system.

Phishing

Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details directly from users. Phishing is typically carried out by email spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one. Preying on a victim’s trust, phishing can be classified as a form of social engineering.

Clickjacking

Clickjacking, also known as “UI redress attack” or “User Interface redress attack”, is a malicious technique in which an attacker tricks a user into clicking on a button or link on another webpage while the user intended to click on the top level page. This is done using multiple transparent or opaque layers. The attacker is basically “hijacking” the clicks meant for the top level page and routing them to some other irrelevant page, most likely owned by someone else. A similar technique can be used to hijack keystrokes. Carefully drafting a combination of stylesheets, iframes, buttons and text boxes, a user can be led into believing that they are typing the password or other information on some authentic webpage while it is being channeled into an invisible frame controlled by the attacker.

Social engineering

Social engineering aims to convince a user to disclose secrets such as passwords, card numbers, etc. by, for example, impersonating a bank, a contractor, or a customer.

A common scam involves fake CEO emails sent to accounting and finance departments. In early 2016, the FBI reported that the scam has cost US businesses more than $2bn in about two years.

In May 2016, the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team was the victim of this type of cyber scam with a perpetrator impersonating the team’s president Peter Feigin, resulting in the handover of all the team’s employees’ 2015 W-2 tax forms.

Multivector, polymorphic attacks

Surfacing in 2017, a new class of multi-vector,  polymorphic cyber threats surfaced that combined several types of attacks and changed form to avoid cybersecurity controls as they spread. These threats have been classified as fifth generation cyberattacks.

Information security culture

Employee behavior can have a big impact on information security in organizations. Cultural concepts can help different segments of the organization work effectively or work against effectiveness towards information security within an organization.″Exploring the Relationship between Organizational Culture and Information Security Culture″ provides the following definition of information security culture: ″ISC is the totality of patterns of behavior in an organization that contribute to the protection of information of all kinds.″

Andersson and Reimers (2014) found that employees often do not see themselves as part of the organization Information Security “effort” and often take actions that ignore organizational Information Security best interests. Research shows Information security culture needs to be improved continuously. In ″Information Security Culture from Analysis to Change″, authors commented, ″It′s a never ending process, a cycle of evaluation and change or maintenance.″ To manage the information security culture, five steps should be taken: Pre-evaluation, strategic planning, operative planning, implementation, and post-evaluation.

  • Pre-Evaluation: to identify the awareness of information security within employees and to analyze the current security policy.
  • Strategic Planning: to come up with a better awareness program, clear targets need to be set. Clustering people is helpful to achieve it.
  • Operative Planning: a good security culture can be established based on internal communication, management-buy-in, and security awareness and a training program.
  • Implementation: four stages should be used to implement the information security culture. They are:
  1. Commitment of the management
  2. Communication with organizational members
  3. Courses for all organizational members
  4. Commitment of the employees

Systems at risk

The growth in the number of computer systems, and the increasing reliance upon them of individuals, businesses, industries and governments means that there are an increasing number of systems at risk.

Financial systems

The computer systems of financial regulators and financial institutions like the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, SWIFT, investment banks, and commercial banks are prominent hacking targets for cybercriminals interested in manipulating markets and making illicit gains. Web sites and apps that accept or store credit card numbers, brokerage accounts, and bank account information are also prominent hacking targets, because of the potential for immediate financial gain from transferring money, making purchases, or selling the information on the black market. In-store payment systems and ATMs have also been tampered with in order to gather customer account data and PINs.

Utilities and industrial equipment

Computers control functions at many utilities, including coordination of telecommunications, the power grid, nuclear power plants, and valve opening and closing in water and gas networks. The Internet is a potential attack vector for such machines if connected, but the Stuxnet worm demonstrated that even equipment controlled by computers not connected to the Internet can be vulnerable. In 2014, the Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, investigated 79 hacking incidents at energy companies.Vulnerabilities in smart meters (many of which use local radio or cellular communications) can cause problems with billing fraud.

Aviation

The aviation industry is very reliant on a series of complex systems which could be attacked. A simple power outage at one airport can cause repercussions worldwide, much of the system relies on radio transmissions which could be disrupted,and controlling aircraft over oceans is especially dangerous because radar surveillance only extends 175 to 225 miles offshore.There is also potential for attack from within an aircraft.

In Europe, with the (Pan-European Network Service) and NewPENS, and in the US with the NextGen program, air navigation service providers are moving to create their own dedicated networks.

The consequences of a successful attack range from loss of confidentiality to loss of system integrity, air traffic control outages, loss of aircraft, and even loss of life.

Consumer devices

Desktop computers and laptops are commonly targeted to gather passwords or financial account information, or to construct a botnet to attack another target. Smartphones, tablet computers, smart watches, and other mobile devices such as quantified self devices like activity trackers have sensors such as cameras, microphones, GPS receivers, compasses, and accelerometers which could be exploited, and may collect personal information, including sensitive health information. Wifi, Bluetooth, and cell phone networks on any of these devices could be used as attack vectors, and sensors might be remotely activated after a successful breach. The increasing number of home automation devices such as the Nest thermostat are also potential targets.

Large corporations

Large corporations are common targets. In many cases this is aimed at financial gain through identity theft and involves data breaches such as the loss of millions of clients’ credit card details by Home Depot, Staples, Target Corporation, and the most recent breach of Equifax.

Some cyberattacks are ordered by foreign governments, these governments engage in cyberwarfare with the intent to spread their propaganda, sabotage, or spy on their targets. Many people believe the Russian government played a major role in the US presidential election of 2016 by using Twitter and Facebook to affect the results of the election.

Medical records have been targeted for use in general identify theft, health insurance fraud, and impersonating patients to obtain prescription drugs for recreational purposes or resale. Although cyber threats continue to increase, 62% of all organizations did not increase security training for their business in 2015.

Not all attacks are financially motivated however; for example security firm HBGary Federal suffered a serious series of attacks in 2011 from hacktivist group Anonymous in retaliation for the firm’s CEO claiming to have infiltrated their group,  and in the Sony Pictures attack of 2014 the motive appears to have been to embarrass with data leaks, and cripple the company by wiping workstations and servers.

Automobiles

Vehicles are increasingly computerized, with engine timing, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, seat belt tensioners, door locks, airbags and advanced driver-assistance systems on many models. Additionally, connected cars may use WiFi and Bluetooth to communicate with onboard consumer devices and the cell phone network. Self-driving cars are expected to be even more complex.

All of these systems carry some security risk, and such issues have gained wide attention. Simple examples of risk include a malicious compact disc being used as an attack vector, and the car’s onboard microphones being used for eavesdropping. However, if access is gained to a car’s internal controller area network, the danger is much greater and in a widely publicised 2015 test, hackers remotely carjacked a vehicle from 10 miles away and drove it into a ditch.

Manufacturers are reacting in a number of ways, with Tesla in 2016 pushing out some security fixes “over the air” into its cars’ computer systems.

In the area of autonomous vehicles, in September 2016 the United States Department of Transportation announced some initial safety standards, and called for states to come up with uniform policies.

Government

Government and military computer systems are commonly attacked by activists and foreign powers.Local and regional government infrastructure such as traffic light controls, police and intelligence agency communications, personnel records, student records, and financial systems are also potential targets as they are now all largely computerized. Passports and government ID cards that control access to facilities which use RFID can be vulnerable to cloning.

Internet of things and physical vulnerabilities

The Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical objects such as devices, vehicles, and buildings that are embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables them to collect and exchange data and concerns have been raised that this is being developed without appropriate consideration of the security challenges involved.

While the IoT creates opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, it also provides opportunities for misuse. In particular, as the Internet of Things spreads widely, cyber attacks are likely to become an increasingly physical (rather than simply virtual) threat. If a front door’s lock is connected to the Internet, and can be locked/unlocked from a phone, then a criminal could enter the home at the press of a button from a stolen or hacked phone. People could stand to lose much more than their credit card numbers in a world controlled by IoT-enabled devices. Thieves have also used electronic means to circumvent non-Internet-connected hotel door locks.

Medical systems

Medical devices have either been successfully attacked or had potentially deadly vulnerabilities demonstrated, including both in-hospital diagnostic equipment and implanted devices including pacemakersand insulin pumps. There are many reports of hospitals and hospital organizations getting hacked, including ransomware attacks,Windows XP exploits, viruses,  and data breaches of sensitive data stored on hospital servers. On 28 December 2016 the US Food and Drug Administration released its recommendations for how medical device manufacturers should maintain the security of Internet-connected devices – but no structure for enforcement.

Energy sector

In distributed generation systems, the risk of cyber attacks is real, according to Daily Energy Insider. An attack could cause a loss of power in a large area for a long period of time, and such an attack could have just as severe consequences as a natural disaster. The District of Columbia is considering creating a Distributed Energy Resources (DER) Authority within the city, with the goal being for customers to have more insight into their own energy use and giving the local electric utility, Pepco, the chance to better estimate energy demand. The D.C. proposal, however, would “allow third-party vendors to create numerous points of energy distribution, which could potentially create more opportunities for cyberattackers to threaten the electric grid.”

Protection

Security by design

Security by design, or alternately secure by design, means that the software has been designed from the ground up to be secure. In this case, security is considered as a main feature.

Some of the techniques in this approach include:

  • The principle of least privilege, where each part of the system has only the privileges that are needed for its function. That way even if an attacker gains access to that part, they have only limited access to the whole system.
  • Automated theorem proving to prove the correctness of crucial software subsystems.
  • Code reviews and unit testing, approaches to make modules more secure where formal correctness proofs are not possible.
  • Defense in depth, where the design is such that more than one subsystem needs to be violated to compromise the integrity of the system and the information it holds.
  • Default secure settings, and design to “fail secure” rather than “fail insecure” (see fail-safe for the equivalent in safety engineering). Ideally, a secure system should require a deliberate, conscious, knowledgeable and free decision on the part of legitimate authorities in order to make it insecure.
  • Audit trails tracking system activity, so that when a security breach occurs, the mechanism and extent of the breach can be determined. Storing audit trails remotely, where they can only be appended to, can keep intruders from covering their tracks.
  • Full disclosure of all vulnerabilities, to ensure that the “window of vulnerability” is kept as short as possible when bugs are discovered.

Security architecture

The Open Security Architecture organization defines IT security architecture as “the design artifacts that describe how the security controls (security countermeasures) are positioned, and how they relate to the overall information technology architecture. These controls serve the purpose to maintain the system’s quality attributes: confidentiality, integrity, availability, accountability and assurance services”.

Techopedia defines security architecture as “a unified security design that addresses the necessities and potential risks involved in a certain scenario or environment. It also specifies when and where to apply security controls. The design process is generally reproducible.” The key attributes of security architecture are:

  • the relationship of different components and how they depend on each other.
  • the determination of controls based on risk assessment, good practice, finances, and legal matters.
  • the standardization of controls.

Security measures

A state of computer “security” is the conceptual ideal, attained by the use of the three processes: threat prevention, detection, and response. These processes are based on various policies and system components, which include the following:

  • User account access controls and cryptography can protect systems files and data, respectively.
  • Firewalls are by far the most common prevention systems from a network security perspective as they can (if properly configured) shield access to internal network services, and block certain kinds of attacks through packet filtering. Firewalls can be both hardware- or software-based.
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) products are designed to detect network attacks in-progress and assist in post-attack forensics, while audit trails and logs serve a similar function for individual systems.
  • “Response” is necessarily defined by the assessed security requirements of an individual system and may cover the range from simple upgrade of protections to notification of legal authorities, counter-attacks, and the like. In some special cases, a complete destruction of the compromised system is favored, as it may happen that not all the compromised resources are detected.

Today, computer security comprises mainly “preventive” measures, like firewalls or an exit procedure. A firewall can be defined as a way of filtering network data between a host or a network and another network, such as the Internet, and can be implemented as software running on the machine, hooking into the network stack (or, in the case of most UNIX-based operating systems such as Linux, built into the operating system kernel) to provide real time filtering and blocking. Another implementation is a so-called “physical firewall”, which consists of a separate machine filtering network traffic. Firewalls are common amongst machines that are permanently connected to the Internet.

Some organizations are turning to big data platforms, such as Apache Hadoop, to extend data accessibility and machine learning to detect advanced persistent threats.

However, relatively few organisations maintain computer systems with effective detection systems, and fewer still have organised response mechanisms in place. As a result, as Reuters points out: “Companies for the first time report they are losing more through electronic theft of data than physical stealing of assets”.The primary obstacle to effective eradication of cyber crime could be traced to excessive reliance on firewalls and other automated “detection” systems. Yet it is basic evidence gathering by using packet capture appliances that puts criminals behind bars.

Vulnerability management

Vulnerability management is the cycle of identifying, and remediating or mitigating vulnerabilities, especially in software and firmware. Vulnerability management is integral to computer security and network security.

Vulnerabilities can be discovered with a vulnerability scanner, which analyzes a computer system in search of known vulnerabilities, such as open ports, insecure software configuration, and susceptibility to malware.

Beyond vulnerability scanning, many organisations contract outside security auditors to run regular penetration tests against their systems to identify vulnerabilities. In some sectors this is a contractual requirement.

Reducing vulnerabilities

While formal verification of the correctness of computer systems is possible,  it is not yet common. Operating systems formally verified include seL4, and SYSGO’s Pike OS  but these make up a very small percentage of the market.

Two factor authentication is a method for mitigating unauthorized access to a system or sensitive information. It requires “something you know”; a password or PIN, and “something you have”; a card, dongle, cellphone, or other piece of hardware. This increases security as an unauthorized person needs both of these to gain access.

Social engineering and direct computer access (physical) attacks can only be prevented by non-computer means, which can be difficult to enforce, relative to the sensitivity of the information. Training is often involved to help mitigate this risk, but even in a highly disciplined environments (e.g. military organizations), social engineering attacks can still be difficult to foresee and prevent.

Enoculation, derived from inoculation theory, seeks to prevent social engineering and other fraudulent tricks or traps by instilling a resistance to persuasion attempts through exposure to similar or related attempts. It is possible to reduce an attacker’s chances by keeping systems up to date with security patches and updates, using a security scanner or/and hiring competent people responsible for security.(This statement is ambiguous. Even systems developed by “competent” people get penetrated) The effects of data loss/damage can be reduced by careful backing up and insurance.

Hardware protection mechanisms

While hardware may be a source of insecurity, such as with microchip vulnerabilities maliciously introduced during the manufacturing process, hardware-based or assisted computer security also offers an alternative to software-only computer security. Using devices and methods such as dongles, trusted platform modules, intrusion-aware cases, drive locks, disabling USB ports, and mobile-enabled access may be considered more secure due to the physical access (or sophisticated backdoor access) required in order to be compromised. Each of these is covered in more detail below.

  • USB dongles are typically used in software licensing schemes to unlock software capabilities, but they can also be seen as a way to prevent unauthorized access to a computer or other device’s software. The dongle, or key, essentially creates a secure encrypted tunnel between the software application and the key. The principle is that an encryption scheme on the dongle, such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) provides a stronger measure of security, since it is harder to hack and replicate the dongle than to simply copy the native software to another machine and use it. Another security application for dongles is to use them for accessing web-based content such as cloud software or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).In addition, a USB dongle can be configured to lock or unlock a computer.
  • Trusted platform modules (TPMs) secure devices by integrating cryptographic capabilities onto access devices, through the use of microprocessors, or so-called computers-on-a-chip. TPMs used in conjunction with server-side software offer a way to detect and authenticate hardware devices, preventing unauthorized network and data access.
  • Computer case intrusion detection refers to a device, typically a push-button switch, which detects when a computer case is opened. The firmware or BIOS is programmed to show an alert to the operator when the computer is booted up the next time.
  • Drive locks are essentially software tools to encrypt hard drives, making them inaccessible to thieves. Tools exist specifically for encrypting external drives as well.
  • Disabling USB ports is a security option for preventing unauthorized and malicious access to an otherwise secure computer. Infected USB dongles connected to a network from a computer inside the firewall are considered by the magazine Network World as the most common hardware threat facing computer networks.
  • Mobile-enabled access devices are growing in popularity due to the ubiquitous nature of cell phones. Built-in capabilities such as Bluetooth, the newer Bluetooth low energy (LE), Near field communication (NFC) on non-iOS devices and biometric validation such as thumb print readers, as well as QR code reader software designed for mobile devices, offer new, secure ways for mobile phones to connect to access control systems. These control systems provide computer security and can also be used for controlling access to secure buildings.

Secure operating systems

One use of the term “computer security” refers to technology that is used to implement secure operating systems. In the 1980s the United States Department of Defense (DoD) used the “Orange Book”standards, but the current international standard ISO/IEC 15408, “Common Criteria” defines a number of progressively more stringent Evaluation Assurance Levels. Many common operating systems meet the EAL4 standard of being “Methodically Designed, Tested and Reviewed”, but the formal verification required for the highest levels means that they are uncommon. An example of an EAL6 (“Semiformally Verified Design and Tested”) system is Integrity-178B, which is used in the Airbus A380 and several military jets.

Secure coding

In software engineering, secure coding aims to guard against the accidental introduction of security vulnerabilities. It is also possible to create software designed from the ground up to be secure. Such systems are “secure by design”. Beyond this, formal verification aims to prove the correctness of the algorithms underlying a system  important for cryptographic protocols for example.

Capabilities and access control lists

Within computer systems, two of many security models capable of enforcing privilege separation are access control lists (ACLs) and capability-based security. Using ACLs to confine programs has been proven to be insecure in many situations, such as if the host computer can be tricked into indirectly allowing restricted file access, an issue known as the confused deputy problem. It has also been shown that the promise of ACLs of giving access to an object to only one person can never be guaranteed in practice. Both of these problems are resolved by capabilities. This does not mean practical flaws exist in all ACL-based systems, but only that the designers of certain utilities must take responsibility to ensure that they do not introduce flaws.

Capabilities have been mostly restricted to research operating systems, while commercial OSs still use ACLs. Capabilities can, however, also be implemented at the language level, leading to a style of programming that is essentially a refinement of standard object-oriented design. An open source project in the area is the E language.

End user security training

Repeated education/training in security “best practices” can have a marked effect on compliance with good end user network security habits—which particularly protect against phishing, ransomware and other forms of malware which have a social engineering aspect.

Response to breaches

Responding forcefully to attempted security breaches (in the manner that one would for attempted physical security breaches) is often very difficult for a variety of reasons:

  • Identifying attackers is difficult, as they are often in a different jurisdiction to the systems they attempt to breach, and operate through proxies, temporary anonymous dial-up accounts, wireless connections, and other anonymising procedures which make backtracing difficult and are often located in yet another jurisdiction. If they successfully breach security, they are often able to delete logs to cover their tracks.
  • The sheer number of attempted attacks is so large that organisations cannot spend time pursuing each attacker (a typical home user with a permanent (e.g., cable modem) connection will be attacked at least several times per day, so more attractive targets could be presumed to see many more). Note however, that most of the sheer bulk of these attacks are made by automated vulnerability scanners and computer worms.
  • Law enforcement officers are often unfamiliar with information technology, and so lack the skills and interest in pursuing attackers. There are also budgetary constraints. It has been argued that the high cost of technology, such as DNA testing, and improved forensics mean less money for other kinds of law enforcement, so the overall rate of criminals not getting dealt with goes up as the cost of the technology increases. In addition, the identification of attackers across a network may require logs from various points in the network and in many countries, the release of these records to law enforcement (with the exception of being voluntarily surrendered by a network administrator or a system administrator) requires a search warrant and, depending on the circumstances, the legal proceedings required can be drawn out to the point where the records are either regularly destroyed, or the information is no longer relevant.
  • The United States government spends the largest amount of money every year on cyber security. The United States has a yearly budget of 28 billion dollars. Canada has the 2nd highest annual budget at 1 billion dollars. Australia has the third highest budget with only 70 million dollars.

Types of security and privacy

  • Access control
  • Anti-keyloggers
  • Anti-malware
  • Anti-spyware
  • Anti-subversion software
  • Anti-tamper software
  • Antivirus software
  • Cryptographic software
  • Computer-aided dispatch (CAD)
  • Firewall
  • Intrusion detection system (IDS)
  • Intrusion prevention system (IPS)
  • Log management software
  • Records management
  • Sandbox
  • Security information management
  • SIEM
  • Anti-theft
  • Parental control
  • Software and operating system updating

Notable attacks and breaches

Some illustrative examples of different types of computer security breaches are given below.

Robert Morris and the first computer worm

In 1988, only 60,000 computers were connected to the Internet, and most were mainframes, minicomputers and professional workstations. On 2 November 1988, many started to slow down, because they were running a malicious code that demanded processor time and that spread itself to other computers – the first internet “computer worm”. The software was traced back to 23-year-old Cornell University graduate student Robert Tappan Morris, Jr. who said ‘he wanted to count how many machines were connected to the Internet’.

Rome Laboratory

In 1994, over a hundred intrusions were made by unidentified crackers into the Rome Laboratory, the US Air Force’s main command and research facility. Using trojan horses, hackers were able to obtain unrestricted access to Rome’s networking systems and remove traces of their activities. The intruders were able to obtain classified files, such as air tasking order systems data and furthermore able to penetrate connected networks of National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, some Defense contractors, and other private sector organizations, by posing as a trusted Rome center user.

TJX customer credit card details

In early 2007, American apparel and home goods company TJX announced that it was the victim of an unauthorized computer systems intrusion and that the hackers had accessed a system that stored data on credit card, debit card, check, and merchandise return transactions.

Stuxnet attack

The computer worm known as Stuxnet reportedly ruined almost one-fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges by disrupting industrial programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in a targeted attack generally believed to have been launched by Israel and the United States  although neither has publicly admitted this.

Global surveillance disclosures

In early 2013, documents provided by Edward Snowden were published by The Washington Post and The Guardian exposing the massive scale of NSA global surveillance. There were also indications that the NSA may have inserted a backdoor in a NIST standard for encryption.  This standard was later withdrawn due to widespread criticism. The NSA additionally were revealed to have tapped the links between Google’s data centres.

Target and Home Depot breaches

In 2013 and 2014, a Russian/Ukrainian hacking ring known as “Rescator” broke into Target Corporation computers in 2013, stealing roughly 40 million credit cards, and then Home Depot computers in 2014, stealing between 53 and 56 million credit card numbers.Warnings were delivered at both corporations, but ignored; physical security breaches using self checkout machines are believed to have played a large role. “The malware utilized is absolutely unsophisticated and uninteresting,” says Jim Walter, director of threat intelligence operations at security technology company McAfee – meaning that the heists could have easily been stopped by existing antivirus software had administrators responded to the warnings. The size of the thefts has resulted in major attention from state and Federal United States authorities and the investigation is ongoing.

Office of Personnel Management data breach

In April 2015, the Office of Personnel Management discovered it had been hacked more than a year earlier in a data breach, resulting in the theft of approximately 21.5 million personnel records handled by the office.  The Office of Personnel Management hack has been described by federal officials as among the largest breaches of government data in the history of the United States. Data targeted in the breach included personally identifiable information such as Social Security Numbers, names, dates and places of birth, addresses, and fingerprints of current and former government employees as well as anyone who had undergone a government background check. It is believed the hack was perpetrated by Chinese hackers but the motivation remains unclear.

Ashley Madison breach

In July 2015, a hacker group known as “The Impact Team” successfully breached the extramarital relationship website Ashley Madison. The group claimed that they had taken not only company data but user data as well. After the breach, The Impact Team dumped emails from the company’s CEO, to prove their point, and threatened to dump customer data unless the website was taken down permanently. With this initial data release, the group stated “Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online.” When Avid Life Media, the parent company that created the Ashley Madison website, did not take the site offline, The Impact Group released two more compressed files, one 9.7GB and the second 20GB. After the second data dump, Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman resigned, but the website remained functional.