In Part 1 of our series on the evolution of cybersecurity, we learned where it all began with the first computer virus, known as a worm, and the landmark case that made the public more aware of cybersecurity risks. Part 2 brought us the 1990s and a new level of connectivity through the World Wide Web (that’s www. for all you youngsters out there). We learned about the first virus scanning tools and what 1990s-style phishing emails looked like.
We conclude our series with what we’re facing in today’s cyber landscape. Early computer viruses mostly served to annoy users and make systems crash, but cyber criminals have become far more malicious today. Instead of making computers crash or displaying cheeky messages on users' screens, today's hackers use viruses to get a hold of personal information and carry out identity fraud or hold a company's data for ransom, among other things.
The Target credit card attack was one of the most sophisticated and devastating attacks carried out in the digital age. By gaining access to the login information of a third-party refrigeration contractor working with Target, hackers were able to connect to Target through a portal and steal users' information. More than 40 million credit card and debit card numbers were ultimately compromised, with the total cost of the data breach estimated to be about $300 million. For and in-depth analysis of the Target cyber attack, read the whitepaper by Xiaokui Shu, Ke Tian, Andrew Ciambrone and Danfeng (Daphne) Yao.
Nowadays, ransomware attacks are one of the most common threats to consumers and businesses alike. Hackers use various tactics to gain access to personal information, which they then threaten to share unless you pay them a certain amount of money. In some cases, you may be restricted from visiting certain websites, logging into accounts or viewing certain documents until you've paid the ransom. While the first ransomware attack occurred in 1989, today's attacks are more sophisticated and ransomware attacks are becoming more common. In fact, ransomware is a $400 million economy and growing.
The good news is, the evolution of technology also means we can do more to fight against cybersecurity threats. Both small and large businesses can use a NIST cybersecurity assessment tool to identify threats and create plans to mitigate those threats before they become bigger problems. As cybersecurity threats evolve, your cybersecurity efforts should evolve with them to protect yourself and your business or organization.