How do you catch a criminal that doesn’t have a face? A criminal that can steal $100,000 in under a minute without even stepping foot inside the building? That’s what law enforcement agencies are currently trying to deal with as “cyber crimes” – crimes committed using a computer or the Internet – become more popular. The Internet is no longer just a tool for entertainment or communication. Like an unplanned Breaking Bad addiction, the Internet has simultaneously consumed us and spiraled out of our control. Additionally, we have entrusted machines with our most precious information, including money, personal details and photos from drunken holiday parties. With so much trust invested in these places, it’s hard to believe our security systems for them are so outdated. But why is that really such a bad thing?
Let’s start with the fact that the US is the most susceptible to fraud attacks. Unlike Europe, who has jumped on the cyber-security bandwagon, the US continues to struggle with online breaches. And we’re not talking a couple of dollars. Recently, cyber-criminals accumulated over $45 million through ATM heists alone. That’s like, $45 million more than I currently have in my wallet. Do you know how much the US could use that cash? With $45 million, you could probably bribe your way into that Mars One project, buy a pack of kangaroos and teach them how to be your own personal butlers, or pay for a semester of tuition at a private college (but that might be pushing it).
Cyber-criminals have developed multiple approaches to these attacks. Many focus on manipulating point-of-sale terminals (electronic devices used to complete a transaction like ATMs) in order to collect wads of cash in short periods of time. The Gone in 60 Seconds method that resulted in a $1 million theft at Citibank last year allows robbers to make multiple transactions in under 60 seconds so the computer recognizes them as one transaction. Before the ATMs can push a panic button, or whatever they do to alert someone they’ve been tinkered with, the criminal is gone. This is what makes cyber crimes so hard to catch.
While, yes, cyber-criminals don’t necessarily hurt anyone physically, they are sometimes just as heartless as traditional robbers. Immediately after the Boston Bombings and the West, Texas explosion, email phishers began sending out virus-encrypted links titled “Boston bombing footage!” and “West Texas explosions caught on tape!” hoping to make some quick cash off of the country’s desperation, thus proving that scammers are, in fact, the lowest of the low in the Internet world and maybe beyond.
The good news is the situation may not be as bad as it seems, so everyone can take a deep breath and temporarily go back to worrying about Kim’s baby bump, or whatever people talk about these days. That is not to say that we should not pay attention to these occurrences (because that would contradict everything I just said above) but that we should take what we hear about them with a grain of salt (including this, which you should take with multiple grains because salt is delicious and could probably come in handy at some point). Media outlets like to say that we are a country plagued by cyberterrorism when, in reality, we are nowhere close to that level of destruction. Cyberterrorism is defined as an electronic attack intended to cause physical harm to others. An example of a cyberterrorist attack might be someone breaking into the US government’s military controls and virtually detonating an atomic bomb. This is distinctly different from “hactivism” which is broadcasted over the news almost as much as the weather reports. Hacktivists like Anonymous and Lulzsec aim simply to disrupt. Cyberterrorists aim to injure.
Another deep breath. Cyberterrorists are not currently a threat to our country or at least, not in the “remote missle detonation” sort of way. Nuclear weapons are often protected by “air-gapping”, which prevents the device from being connected to the Internet or a computer network that could be hacked by an outsider. Furthermore, even if they weren’t, the majority of hackers are not skilled enough to conduct such an elaborate breach. Plus, hackers typically hack to point out computer design flaws and point out how awesome they are for finding them. Wide-scale killing is not usually on the agenda.
But with all this in mind, I still find myself wanting to lock myself in a cabin somewhere away from civilization and the Internet to avoid any sort of physical or emotional harm. The addition of cyber crime to my daily growing list of “Things That Could Hurt Me” convince me that my life is turning into some weird Nightmare on Elm Street movie but instead of dreams hurting me, it’s my brain’s second favorite form of entertainment, the Internet. Meaning, as the frequency of real-life attacks (shootings, bombings, etc.) increases (or, appears to increase at least) and the use of the Internet and computers for theft becomes more prevalent, I’m starting to believe that I’m not safe in real life or online. I mean, I know neither of those things were safe to begin with because, Craiglist killers are a thing now and…I just don’t know, you guys. Long story short: we need to direct our money toward online security measures because the “Swiper No Swiping” method is no longer a feasible option.