Talking with a friend the other day, he told me that he had received a phone call, allegedly from the IRS, telling him he owed more on his taxes and to call the agency back at a specified phone number.
He recognized it for what it was — a scam — and instead called his local law enforcement agency to report it. The response there was less than comforting, being along the lines of, “There’s not much we can do about it.”
As fate would have it, at the time I was reading “Future Crimes” by cybersecurity expert Mark Goodman.
Frankly, the book is more frightening than a Stephen King thriller.
My response to my friend was that most likely his computer had already been hacked, and the only thing the hackers were missing was his Social Security number, which would allow them to access his bank accounts.
The response from local law enforcement was also predictable, and not meant as a criticism. The fact is, increasingly sophisticated international crime syndicates are gaining the ability to attack anyone and everyone on the Internet. They make the likes of Willie Sutton, who allegedly said when asked why he robbed banks, “Because that’s where the money is,” look like a backwoods rube.
The money isn’t in the bank; it’s on the Internet.
Local law enforcement can’t keep up with it because it isn’t a local crime. Goodman writes that the hackers understand law enforcement’s limitations, so a hacker in Russia, for example, will go through a computer server in France, which will relay the instructions to a server in Zimbabwe, which sends it on to Bolivia, which then goes into the computer in your home looking for information, mostly financial, that would be worthwhile to steal.
Ask yourself these questions: Who would investigate such a crime? If caught, who would then prosecute the hacker?
Goodman writes, “When everything is connected, everyone is vulnerable.”
Further, with computer programming becoming ever more complex, finding viruses and malware is that much more difficult. When NASA programmed the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, he writes, it used 145,000 lines of computer code. Microsoft Office 2013 has 45 million lines of code, the average automobile now uses 100 million lines and the federal government’s healthcare.gov Web site has 500 million lines of computer code.
The fact is, what was once a hobby for teenage computer geniuses working out of their bedrooms is now turning into a major war that the nation-states that have protected us for centuries are ill-designed to fight — even as they make their own preparations to fight a cyberwar by hacking each other’s government, utility and business networks.
In April, it was reported that the Tesla Model S Sedan while moving at 5 mph was shut down by hackers. All screens went blank, the music went off and the hand brake came on, stopping the car with a lurch. The same thing happened to a Jeep Cherokee the month before. Both companies issued recalls to install a software patch, but the war will be ongoing.
Former FBI director Robert Mueller said, “There are only two types of companies — those that have been hacked and those that will be.”
This week, it was reported that the aircraft manufacturer Boeing and Hacking Team of Milan, Italy, were looking at planting malware on drones to hack into personal computers.
Their intention is to sell it to governments, who want to track down, for example, an al Qaeda operative in some remote Mideast hideaway, but the potential exists for anyone from your former spouse to a thief down the street to hack into your computer without using the Internet.
It was also reported that security researchers have now figured out a way to turn a printer, washing machine, air conditioner, etc. into a radio capable of transmitting undetected everything said in your house .
What should you do to protect yourself? Goodman says that 90 percent of computer passwords can be cracked within four hours.
The first thing you should do is turn off your computer when you aren’t using it. By turning it off while you sleep, you’ve just improved your chances by a third of not being hacked.
Second, don’t use the same password across multiple sites. If you’re like me, you can’t remember 100 passwords for 100 sites. I’ve taken to keeping an address book at home used only for all the passwords.
But skip using your mother’s maiden name. Better to use something like “gmVy22%c2&.”
To learn more check out Goodman’s Future Crimes Web site or read his book.