In this new era we live in, the age of computers, all aspects of our lives are becoming increasingly reliant on computer systems. More and more of the devices we use are equipped with internet capabilities, and almost all kinds of public and private information can be accessed through these networks. As a result of this unprecedented level of interconnectivity, this information has never been more vulnerable to outside threats from hackers and viruses alike. More than just private information as at risk however; lives are very much at stake as well. Everything from the financial system, to basic utilities, and even medical equipment can be compromised through a competent cyberattack.
The first computer worm was discovered in 1988, created by a curious college student attempting to find out exactly how many computers were connected to the internet. No real damage was done, as the malware simply slowed down the computers it had infected. The second notable breach in cybersecurity was far less innocuous. In 1994, the United States Air Force’s central command facility was completely compromised by several hackers, giving them access to classified information and several other public and private institutions including NASA. In 2007, the home goods company TJX was hacked, aimed at the financial information of hundreds of thousands of customers. Seven years later, both Target and Home Depot were hacked as well, leading to the theft of more than one hundred million credit card numbers. In 2015, what are believed to be Chinese hackers accessed the personal information such as social security numbers and date of birth of government employees and anyone who had ever received a government background check.
While the incidences of identity theft and leaked financial information were undoubtedly serious, the cyber-attacks made by government agents against foreign powers are more dangerous. Cyber-warfare is the single greatest threat we face to our national security and embodies the future of conflict between countries. The example that best exemplifies this fact is the Stuxnet virus, believe to be a collaborative effort between the American and Israeli governments. Introduced by a flash drive, this virus is believed to have single-handedly led to the destruction of one fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which the NSA had compromised Google’s data centers and the NIST standard encryption in its global surveillance efforts. Julian Assange has significantly impacted global policy with the establishment of his organization WikiLeaks, a nonprofit dedicated to publishing secret information, usually made classified by the US government.
The main vulnerability in any computer system is usually the human element. The most common way hackers gain access to networks is through acquiring the passwords of those already authorized to utilize the network. Most individuals are complacent, relying on antivirus software and their IT department to ensure the security of their computers. If this does not change, and we do not all begin to actively participate in improving cybersecurity, the damage done could be catastrophic. Soon every aspect of modern life will involve the internet and computers in some form or another. Making sure that data remains secure and personal information stays private in the process of computerization will be one of the defining struggles of this age in human history.