In spite of my usual postings about technology, ranting about people and their inappropriate use of social-media (if there can be such a thing), work, procrastination, wine and more technology, I wanted this post to be a little more along the lines of what others post; something thought provoking, and hopefully interesting.

As many of you know (shockingly, I didn’t) this year marked the 50th anniversary of the staple of British pop culture: James Bond. What better way to do it than with yet another box office smash. I must, however, tread carefully; this is not a review of the movie, nor is it a spoiler. Although if you haven’t seen it by now, you’d be as well to get a yellow badge to wear on your left lapel with the word ‘Philistine’ inked on it.

Without giving too much away, the film actually makes a very interesting point. When James Bond started, everything was very old fashioned; not accounting the plethora of futuristic gadgets he carried in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. I’m talking about the trumped up millionaire somewhere with some kind of scary vision for the world, with the means and psychosis to realise it. Everything was tangible however, a weapon or a rocket farm hidden underneath a remote island off the coast of Thailand; or floating in orbit somewhere around the planet.

Skyfall took a new angle on things, and indicated that the threat to state security no longer faces us physically; it exists on the information super highway we’ve been so hell-bent on creating and becoming reliant on.

Through work, I recently attended an event held by Dell on information security. Sure, it was our excuse to have a three course lunch and an afternoon out of the office, paid for by a huge international conglomerate. Similarly, it was their excuse to pitch their security services to us, but it was a very informative afternoon.

We are all aware of the threat viruses and internet piracy poses us, but how much do we actually know about it? They say that every computer that is connected to the internet is hacked within 10 seconds. That statistic alone should be enough to scare anybody. When I say hacked, I don’t necessarily mean that someone has gone in and retrieved anything from your machine, but they have successfully been able to connect to it by infiltrating whatever security measures you have “protecting” it.

But gaining access to your machine and seeing that folder of naughty photos you keep of yourself should be the least of your worries. In a very James Bond-esque attempt, we were told of a company who had their entire network hacked and the control of their IP CCTV system taken. The problem? The system was used to read the usernames and password for crucial system accounts read off a notepad lying on someones desk! Another example; a virus managed to work its way into the network of an oil operator with 29,000 client PC’s online, wiping the boot sector of the machines and rendering them useless in the space of a day and halting all operations completely.

Imagine, entire platforms essentially wiped out; cut-off from the rest of the world by a tiny piece of software, that worked its way around an entire companies infrastructure.

We live in a world where we are influenced by various web services and companies to connect ourselves to each other in as many ways as possible, but few of us stop to consider the possible negative implications of it. Myself included. In much the same way as it’s as great to own a car, provided you don’t wrap it round a tree and kill yourself, it’s great to have a smartphone, logged into your email, online banking, Facebook and Twitter accounts. But in much the same way that wrapping your BMW around a tree can be a financial catastrophe, the same can be said for not having the information stored on your iPhone encrypted with a security code. Sure, and I agree with you, it’s a massive inconvenience having to type a number in every time you get a text message from someone, but the increasing value of our ultimate day-to-day companions is not proving much of an incentive to make sure it doesn’t go missing on our next drunken sesh or bus journey, either.

As further technological developments are unveiled on the world, so are the myriad of things we can connect to our home networks; some which allow us to access them from virtually anywhere. Vital control systems are now being ran on PC’s which are connected to data networks, making them a source for potential destruction; imagine if a terrorist group took control of the outlet valve for a gas platform? They could wipe it out, Piper Alpha style, and no amount of Health and Safety policies and procedures would be able to rescue anyone from that. In much the same way that such organisations make the safe conduction of working days the responsibility of their employee’s, the safe use and facilitation of a computer data network must extend to the user level; not just with the IT department sitting in head office. In the same way that we are told countless times where I work, to hold the hand-rail going up and down the stairs, because a positive attitude to physical safety has to start in the office if it makes it offshore, the same policy must now be considered for application to our computer systems.

Next time you complain about not being able to bypass the web-filtering system to load the BBC news in your lunch hour because it’s slow, think about why it’s there.

We are providing people with more and more gateways into our lives, and despite being the technology addict that I am, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable about this. Sure there are people out there working for the government who’s sole responsibility is to read every communication we make in an attempt to prevent terrorism, but it’s those out who want to use our personal information; our movements; our online shopping habits; against us who we should be afraid of. This poses a massive worry for companies, and it’s the reason many of them frown upon those who bring their own smartphones for access to company email whilst on the move.

Naturally, the safest option is to simply remove all connectivity from these devices; how will anyone be able to reach them then? Hardly feasible now though, as this would also push those who decide to go down this route back into the dark ages…

I digress…

The point I’m trying to make is that we ourselves have re-defined the meaning of a term coined during the Second World War: “Total War.” This refers to how the war was fought, at both the front lines and from home, through bombing attacks on cities and other civilian areas in an attempt to weaken the enemy from the inside, as well as destroying vital defences.

Virus’ and malware are becoming increasingly clever. No longer are they simply an inconvenience sent to your inbox from that unknown Nigerian, designed slow down your machine or make it behave erratically to the point where one disposes of it in an entirely violent and unnecessary manner. They can be used to pull remote machines together to work as one, performing Denial of Service attacks and Brute Force attempts on massive public services; to further distribute malicious coding and software; to spy on government officials and company CEO’s. Not only are they used by the society deemed ‘bad guys’ (terrorists and criminals spring to mind first), environmental groups and political activists are known for using them to delay corporate activities or take down systems which they deem ‘dangerous.’

Think about the potential this has for wreaking global havoc? Think about it again: we wont even know until it’s already happening, and by that point it’s too late!

Unlike a nuclear weapon, which James Bond would likely stop by jumping onto it, holding on for dear life and de-activating the detonator or removing the core as it hurtles into the atmosphere, cyber attacks are virtually invisible. In fact, by the time they’ve been detected, it’s probably already too late. I can say, for the developed world anyway, that we are soon going to see the end of the days where guns and bombs have a place in modern day warfare.

M says it herself during the film; that the threat is now all around us, and there is little we can do to escape it; and we are surrounding ourselves with more and more potential sources of attack each day. To my mind, security in the cyberworld is a figment of our imaginations, because for every patch Microsoft release (which is normally one weekafter a vulnerability has been identified) there has probably been another 10 unconvered.

“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination…”

Although prevention is always better than cure, we fight a battle with an enemy who will permanently be one step ahead of us; prevention will never be an option. Does it worry no one, that the largest software manufacturer in the world is providing a product for the mass computer industry with the structural integrity of a pair of fish-net stockings?!

If you want my advice, start learning. No longer is it acceptable to say ‘that’s too complicated for me’ or ‘my husband deals with all that stuff.’ We all use computers; we all own smartphones; we all have personal information floating around in the ether that we don’t want Joe Bloggs getting a hold of; We all want the functionality in our home computing that we have at work. You used to hide your bank statements in a locked cabinet; the same care and attention must be given to their electronic counterparts (and ultimate replacement). So, secure your home network; put a lock on your screensaver; and for gods sake, don’t leave your iPhone in Starbucks!

Image taken from: http://blogs.seattleweekly.com/dailyweekly/2010/09/starbucks_is_evil_because_of_o.php

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