Paranoid or Predictive? Cyber Security and the Rise of the Machines

By Pamela S Stevens
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Long before Mary Shelly pressed pen to paper to record horrific imaginations of reanimated life, humans have contemplated the manipulation of what some might consider the natural law. Today we have become accustomed to living with human-created, independently reactive electronic devices of convenience. We have willfully given up some of our independence and put our trust in technology so that we no longer have to know how to spell or remember a phone number or visit a library. Our devices of convenience manage our banking transactions, monitor our power grids and land our planes. Nevertheless, how much are we willing to rely on our machines of convenience? Can we trust our creations?

If we use science fiction as our mirror of the potential future, perhaps we should be concerned or at a minimum mindfully cautious. Will the U.S. secretary of defense some day have to turn our cyber security over to a U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) creation to protect us, as Lieutenant General Brewster did when he flipped on Skynet – inadvertently becoming the catalyst for the Rise of Machines?

Currently, cyber security leader Kaspersky Labs is diligently working on a secure operating system that can protect the antiquated applications that currently control critical civil structures such as dams, power grids and water systems (SCADA systems) to try to prevent life-altering, chaotic situations. As far back as 2000, SCADA attacks have caused real problems to infrastructure, such as the attack on an Australian water treatment system, which took months for specialists to figure out. Regardless of who created Stuxnet, Duqu, Flame or Gauss, what would happen if complex malware went rogue? It has been proposed by Kaspersky that the plot of the fourth Die Hard movie, "Live Free or Die Hard," in which an infrastructure attack plunges most of the country into chaos, is not too far out of the realm of possibility.

Are we already connected to The Matrix? Is resistance futile? According to Eugene Kaspersky, unless you live in the middle of a jungle without an electronic device, you are connected. If someone has the means, they can find out where you are, what you say on your phone, what you buy at the grocery store, your cholesterol level, your taste in music, your bank account numbers, your preference of friends and much more.

So, what can we do? Many believe they are safe because they are not rich or famous, or risk takers. However, to be safe, one must realize that much of the malware released online is not targeted. We hear about cyber crime and Anonymous' exploits in security news, but those are targeted attacks. Most malware is designed to go looking for vulnerabilities on its own. These programs look for unprotected ports or naive clickers without regard to the victim. They don't discriminate. Some are designed to lure you into spending money, some spy on your activities and some just wreck havoc on your computer system as a prank.

If it sometimes feels like you live inside The Matrix but you don't believe that resistance is futile, what do you do? For a start, you're not a human battery unconscious in a cocoon. For now, the machines are still in our hands. We face malware attacks designed to freeze our hardware and seize our information, but we have Kaspersky, Bitdefender, F-Secure, G Data and Symantec to protect us.

When we question the role of technology in our lives, it can be difficult distinguish to between paranoia and caution. If we truly are always connected, should we try to disconnect – withdraw from the internet, surrender our mobile phones, abandon our GPS devices and pay for everything in cash? So far, most of us have decided to play along. We enjoy and depend on our technology, willingly. We trust it to secure our country, manage our money, clean our drinking water and track our status updates.

You don't have to wear a tinfoil hat to contemplate the consequences of a computerized world. The next time you post a picture on Facebook, buy something online or use GPS to navigate, think about who – or what – is watching you.

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