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Cyber Security

Be aware – connect with care!

Photograph: iStock

Text: Mariano Anthony Davies

Cyber security is the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks and data from malicious attacks. It is also known as information technology security or electronic information security.

Modern society is a global digital village that knows no geographical boundaries. We rely more and more on our digital devices and in so doing, we are increasingly open to identity, private data and financial theft. There is a constant challenge between the effectiveness of security systems and the hacking community's innovative techniques.

Scale of cyber threats

The global cyber threat continues to evolve rapidly, with a rising number of data breaches each year. An official 2019 report revealed that close to 8 billion digital records had been exposed by data breaches in the first nine months of 2019 alone. This figure was more than double (112%) what was experienced in the same period in 2018.

Most of these breaches were experienced by medical services, retailers and public entities, with malicious criminals responsible for most incidents. Some of these sectors are more appealing than others to cybercriminals because they collect financial and medical data. However, all businesses that use networks can be and are likely to be targeted for customer data, corporate espionage or customer attacks.

With the scale of cyber threats expected to continue to rise, experts predict that worldwide spending on cyber-security solutions will reach a massive USD 133.7 billion by 2022. Governments worldwide have responded to the rising cyber threat with guidance to help organisations implement effective cyber-security practices.

Types of cyber threats

The most experienced threats encountered by cyber-security systems are three-fold:

  • Cyber Crime which includes single actors or groups targeting systems for financial gain or seeking to cause maximum disruption.

  • Cyber Attacks these often involve politically motivated information gathering.

  • Cyber Terrorism which is intended to undermine electronic systems to cause panic or fear.

Malicious software called "malware" is used to carry out these attacks. One of the most common cyber threats, malware, is software that a cybercriminal or hacker spreads via an unsolicited email attachment or a legitimate-looking download.

“One of the most common cyber threats, malware, is software that a cybercriminal or hacker spreads via an unsolicited email attachment or a legitimate-looking download.”

Cyber protection awareness

End-user protection or endpoint security is a crucial aspect of cyber security. After all, it is often an individual (the end-user) who accidentally uploads malware or another form of cyber threat to their desktop, laptop or mobile device.

So, how do cyber-security measures protect end-users and systems? Cyber security relies on cryptographic protocols to encrypt emails, files and other critical data. This not only protects information in transit but also guards against loss or theft.

In addition, end-user security software scans computers for pieces of malicious code, quarantines this code and then removes it from the machine. Security programs can even detect and remove malicious code hidden in a primary boot record and are designed to encrypt or wipe data from a computer's hard drive.

Electronic security protocols also focus on real-time malware detection. Many use heuristic and behavioural analysis to monitor a program's behaviour and its code to defend against viruses or trojans that change their shape with each execution (polymorphic and metamorphic malware). Security programs can confine potentially malicious programs to a virtual bubble separate from a user's network to analyse their behaviour and learn how to better detect new infections.

Cyber security software is regularly updated as security programs are forced to evolve new defences as cyber security professionals identify new threats and new ways to combat them. To make the most of end-user security software, employees need to be educated about how to use it. Cyber security software must not be turned off and must be updated frequently to protect against the latest cyber threats.

Cyber protection tips

I conclude with six general tips on how to protect yourself against cyber threats:

  • Update your software and operating system regularly.

  • Use anti-virus software.

  • Use strong passwords.

  • Do not open email attachments from unknown senders.

  • Do not click on links in emails from unknown senders or websites.

  • Avoid using unsecured WIFI networks in public places.

Cyber protection is only as strong as the weakest link in any network.

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