Computer Security

Definition of Computer Security[1]

Computer Security is the protection of computer systems and information from harm, theft, and unauthorized use. Computer hardware is typically protected by the same means to protect other valuable or sensitive equipment, namely, serial numbers, doors and locks, and alarms. The protection of information and system access, on the other hand, is achieved through other tactics, some of them quite complex. The most basic means of protecting a computer system against theft, vandalism, invasion of privacy, and other irresponsible behaviors is to electronically track and record the access to and activities of the various users of a computer system. This is commonly done by assigning an individual password to each person with access to a system. The computer system itself can then automatically track the use of these passwords, recording such data as which files were accessed under particular passwords and so on. Another security measure is to store a system’s data on a separate device or medium, such as magnetic tape or disks, that is normally inaccessible through the computer system. Finally, data is often encrypted so that it can be deciphered only by holders of a singular encryption key.

The Concerns of Computer Security[2]

Computer Security is concerned with four main areas:

  • Confidentiality:- Only authorized users can access the data resources and information.
  • Integrity:- Only authorized users should be able to modify the data when needed.
  • Availability:- Data should be available to users when needed.
  • Authentication:- are you really communicating with whom you think you are communicating with

Computer Attack Motives[3]

Before getting into how to secure data from breaches, we must try to understand the motives behind these attacks. By knowing the motives behind the attacks, it’s easy for cybersecurity professionals to secure the systems. The main motives for attacking an organization’s or individual’s computer are:

  • Disrupting a business’ continuity: If a business is disrupted, it causes great harm to the organization in the form of lost profits, fraud, and damage to its reputation.
  • Information theft and manipulating data: Hackers take confidential information they steal from organizations and sell it to individuals or groups on the black market.
  • Creating chaos and fear by disrupting critical infrastructure: Cyber terrorists attack a company or a government body to disrupt their services, doing damage that can potentially affect an entire nation.
  • Financial loss to the target: Hackers attack an organization or business and disrupt their services in such a way that the target has to allocate substantial funds to repair the damage.
  • Achieving a state’s military objectives: Rival nations continuously keep an eye on each other and sometimes employ cybercriminal tactics to steal military secrets.
  • Demanding ransom: The hackers employ ransomware to block websites or servers, releasing control only after a ransom is paid.
  • Damaging the reputation of target: The hacker may have personal reasons to attack an organization or individual so that their reputation suffers.
  • Propagating religious or political beliefs: Hackers may infiltrate websites to promote religious dogma or a certain political agenda, usually to sway voters to vote a certain way.

Computer Security Threats[4]

Computer security threats are possible dangers that can possibly hamper the normal functioning of your computer. In the present age, cyber threats are constantly increasing as the world is going digital. The most harmful types of computer security are:

  • Viruses: A virus is a malicious program that is loaded into the user’s computer without the user’s knowledge. It replicates itself and infects the files and programs on the user’s PC. The ultimate goal of a virus is to ensure that the victim’s computer will never be able to operate properly or even at all.
  • Computer Worm: Worm is a software program that can copy itself from one computer to another without human interaction. The potential risk here is that it will use up your computer's hard disk space because a worm can replicate in greater volume and with great speed.
  • Phishing: Disguising as a trustworthy person or business, phishers attempt to steal sensitive financial or personal information through fraudulent email or instant messages. Phishing is, unfortunately, very easy to execute. You are deluded into thinking it’s legitimate mail, and you may enter your personal information.
  • Botnet: A botnet is a group of computers connected to the internet that has been compromised by a hacker using a computer virus. An individual computer is called a ‘zombie computer.’ The result of this threat is the victim’s computer, which is the bot will be used for malicious activities and for a larger scale attack like DDoS.
  • Rootkit: A rootkit is a computer program designed to provide continued privileged access to a computer while actively hiding its presence. Once a rootkit has been installed, the controller of the rootkit will be able to execute files remotely and change system configurations on the host machine.
  • Keylogger: Also known as a keystroke logger, keyloggers can track the real-time activity of a user on his computer. It keeps a record of all the keystrokes made by user keyboard. Keylogger is also a powerful threat to steal people’s login credentials such as usernames and passwords.

These are perhaps the most common security threats that you’ll come across. Apart from these, there are others like spyware, wabbits, scareware, bluesnarfing, and many more. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself against these attacks.

Computer Security Threats
source: ICT Frame

Systems at Risk[5]

The growth in the number of computer systems and the increasing reliance upon them by 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. Websites 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. Still, 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. 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, smartwatches, 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, attacks are aimed at financial gain through identity theft and involve data breaches. Examples include 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, which 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 in general, identifying 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 the hacktivist group Anonymous in retaliation for the firm's CEO claiming to have infiltrated their group. 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 risks, 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, suppose access is gained to a car's internal controller area network. In that case, the danger is much greater – and in a widely publicized 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 that 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, cyberattacks will likely 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. An attack that targets physical infrastructure and/or human lives is classified as a Cyber-kinetic attack. As IoT devices and appliances gain currency, cyber-kinetic attacks can become pervasive and significantly damaging.
  • 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 pacemakers and 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 a cyber attack 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, a chance to estimate energy demand better. The D.C. proposal, however, would "allow third-party vendors to create numerous points of energy distribution, which could potentially create more opportunities for cyber attackers to threaten the electric grid."

See Also

Security Architecture