Technology is fascinating, but in the wrong hands it can also be terrifying. Whether you’ve been phished, hacked or infected by malware, having tech turned against you can leave you feeling exposed in a world where technology is playing an ever-larger role in our daily lives. In this article, we’ll look at the scariest threats in tech and why they are so chilling.
Very few things are more upsetting than discovering that someone is siphoning hard-earned money out of your bank account. Financial malware isn’t new, but it has become more sophisticated over time. The most basic financial malware can track keystrokes and steal all the login information on a computer, allowing the culprit to log in to your accounts. More sophisticated financial malware can hijack your browser and take you to pages that look like your financial institution’s page, but are just imitations aimed at getting your account data. (For background reading, check out Malicious Software: Worms Trojans and Bots Oh My!)
While this is scary enough on its own, what's worse is that financial malware is evolving and is allegedly being used by criminal organizations in a more systematic way. As a criminal venture with the potential for big payoff, you can bet that the threat of financial malware will persist as phishing and hacking technologies continue to improved.
Your computer could be part of a zombie army – and you might not even notice a thing. These vast networks are created when malware opens up back doors into your computer, which the bot herders use to gain full access. It gets worse: once your computer is infected, it will join the horde and help to attack other systems.
The main reason botnets are among the most terrifying threats, however, is that they are increasingly being cultivated for criminal purposes. Criminal organizations can rent botnets from their herders and use them to carry out denial-of-service attacks, spread spyware, commit click fraud or any of a host of other cybercimes. These targeted activities – combined with the sheer size of some botnets – puts a vast amount of power into the wrong hands.
Cellular Phone Hacking
Most people have come to terms with having to protect their computers, but the risks facing cellphones are relatively newer. Phones are no longer simple, point-to-point communication devices; they now run off networks and, in the case of smartphones, are as complex as computers. As a result, phones now store banking data, schedules, emails and other important (and sensitive) information – and that data is vulnerable to cellular phone hacking.
Cellular phone hackers have discovered multiple ways to access your phone, including bluehacking, phone cloning, malware apps, and more. Once hackers gain access, they can steal bank info, eavesdrop, delete info and generally violate your privacy. And it’s not just hackers and criminals who are in this game. In 2011, News of the World, a national newspaper published in the U.K., was accused of hacking the phone of a 13-year-old girl who had been abducted, interfering with the investigation of what turned out to be her murder. Cellphone hacking is a new frontier in cybercrime and one that you can bet will continue to be a threat. (To learn more on this, see Common Methods Hackers Are Using To Crack Your Cellular Phone.)
Social Media Snooping
Social media has quickly become a central part of many people’s lives, and one that has impacted how we communicate with each other on a daily basis. But while unrestrained sharing among friends and strangers may sound like a utopia – or at least something out of the '60s – there is a very real downside. If you have a social media account with weak privacy settings, you are vulnerable to social media snooping. This means that someone – for example, a current or potential employer – can access your social media profile and use the information there to form an opinion of you. Moreover, if you are accessing your accounts while you're at work, your employer may be able to monitor your activity, despite your account's privacy settings.
The nature of social media, specifically the free sharing of information, can make it a liability to the person using it – especially if you are sharing too freely about colleagues, your work and other things people often vent about in private. The reason social media snooping is such a scary risk is that we are sharing more and have only our common sense to guide us. Make a poor judgment and you could be left with a posting or comment that can be very difficult to take back and impossible to erase completely. Depending on what you say, it could you leave you out of a job as well.
When Duqu, a malicious computer virus designed to gather information from industrial control facilities, was discovered in October 2011, it was quickly linked to the 2010 computer worm called Stuxnet. Although worms sharing codes with other worms is far from unusual, the worrying part is that Stuxnet is believed to be one of the first worms designed by a national government for military purposes – in short, for cyberwarfare. Stuxnet and Duqu were both designed to gather intelligence, data and access codes from industrial networks and control systems, presumably to allow the designer to control or disrupt these systems. The notion that nations might employ programmers to launch cyberattacks on the technological infrastructure of other nations goes way back, but it is increasingly moving from the realm of fiction to reality. (To learn about other major malware attacks, see The Most Devastating Computer Viruses.)
Technology can be a double-edged sword in that it has increased our capabilities, even as it introduced new vulnerabilities. When it comes to financial malware, botnets, cellular phone hacking and social media snooping, common sense is your best defense. Do your best to assure your computer is protected against malware, don’t download from suspicious sources and invest in some security software. Also remember that social media is a public platform, so you are creating a public image of yourself whether you intend to or not.
As for cyberwarfare, we can only hope that this threat has been exaggerated by the media, because the idea of a cyberwar wiping out the very technologies we depend on is about as scary as it gets.