Hacking Concerns Brought to the Fore, Especially In 2016 Elections
While cyber attacks and intrusions have been a staple of life on the Internet since the web became truly worldwide, public attention to hacking and other bad acts in cyber space has surged in recent years. The media has focused on massive breaches in which millions of accounts were compromised, such as mass hacking of information contained in email accounts at Yahoo, as well more specific but high-profile incidents, like the intrusions that targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
In many hacking cases, like that targeting Podesta, the source of the intrusion was a link attached to a fraudulent email that handed personal information directly to a hacker. For instance, Podesta’s assistants, who managed his email account, received a so-called “spearfishing” link that prompted the user to change their Gmail password when clicked. When Podesta and his team typed in that information, it was copied by hackers who were able to quickly gain access to his emails. The hacking was blown into the open when the contents of the emails were given to Wikileaks for public release. (A formal investigation was conducted by the Intelligence Community after the election and concluded that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, were behind the hacking.)
While “spearfishing” is relatively unsophisticated, more nefarious actors have been able to gain access to accounts and even entire operating systems through similar tactics. A November 2016 Vanity Fair article details the underworld of cyber attackers, many of whom are for hire by foreign governments or malicious organizations or individuals. Those hackers reportedly develop new techniques to penetrate computers and networks and steal sensitive information on a constant basis.
Among the techniques profiled in the Vanity Fair article there is a commercially-developed malware that overtakes an iPhone and allows the hackers to track all of the content and activity on the phone. Such a cyber attack would be particularly useful for an authoritarian government that wants to spy on its own citizens and closely monitor the activities of dissidents.
Users, Providers Must Partner for Security
To stay one step ahead of hackers and other hostile actors, computer and phone users must stay vigilant and avoid clicking on malicious links or opening attachments from unknown or untrustworthy senders.
At the same time, key technology companies like Google and Internet service providers must take proactive steps to shutter vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to compromise personal information or steal other valuable content from users.
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