Given the increased digitization of society and explosion of devices generating data (including retail, social media, search, mobile, and the internet of things), it seems like it might have been inevitable that cybersecurity pervasiveness would eventually touch every aspect of life. But, it feels more like everything has been subsumed by infosec.
All information in our lives is now digital — health records, location data, search habits, not to mention all of the info we willingly share on social media — and all of that data has value to us. However, it also has value to companies that can use it to build more popular products and serve ads and it has value to malicious actors too.
The conflict between the interests of these three groups means cybersecurity pervasiveness is present in every facet of life. Users want control of their data in order to have a semblance of privacy. Corporations want to gather and keep as much data as possible, just in case trends can be found in it to increase the bottom line. And, malicious actors want to use that data for financial gain — selling PII, credit info or intellectual property on the dark web, holding systems for ransom, etc. — or political gain.
None of these cybersecurity pervasiveness trends are necessarily new for those in the infosec community, but issues like identity theft or stolen credit card numbers haven’t always registered with the general public or mass media as cybersecurity problems because they tended to be considered in individual terms — a few people here and there had those sorts of issues but it couldn’t be too widespread, right?
Now, there are commercials on major TV networks pitching “free dark web scans” to let you know whether your data is being sold on the black market. (Spoiler alert: your data has almost certainly been compromised, it’s more a matter of whether you’re unlucky enough to have your ID chosen from the pile by malicious actors or not. And, a dark web scan won’t make the awful process of getting a new social security number any better.)
Data breaches are so common and so far-reaching that everyone has either been directly affected or is no more than about two degrees of separation from someone who has been. Remember: the Yahoo breach alone affected 3 billion accounts and the latest stats say there are currently only about 4.1 billion people who have internet access. The Equifax breach affected 148 million U.S. records and the U.S. has an estimated population of 325 million.
Everyone has been affected in one way or another. Everything we do can be tracked including our location, our search and purchase history, our communications and more.
But, cybersecurity pervasiveness no longer affects only financial issues and the general public has seen in stark reality how digital platforms and the idea of truth itself can be manipulated by threat actors for political gain.
Cyberattacks have become shows of nation-state power in a type of new Cold War, at least until cyberattacks impact industrial systems and cause real world harm.
Just as threat actors can find the flaws in software, there are flaws in human psychology that can be exploited as part of traditional phishing schemes or fake news campaigns designed to sway public opinion or even manipulate elections.
For all of the issues that arise from financially-motivated threat actors, the security fixes range from relatively simple to implement — encryption, data protection, data management, stronger privacy controls, and so on — to far more complex issues like replacing the woefully outmatched social security number as a primary form of ID.
However, the politically-minded attacks are far more difficult to mitigate, because you can’t patch human psychology. Better critical reading skills are hard to build across people who might not believe there’s even an issue that needs fixing. Pulling people out of echo chambers will be difficult.
Social networks need to completely change their platforms to be better at enforcing abuse policies and to devalue constant sharing of links. And the media also needs to stop prioritizing conflict and inflammatory headlines over real news. All of this means prioritizing the public good over profits, a notoriously difficult proposition under the almighty hand of capitalism.
None of these are easy to do and some may be downright impossible. But, like it or not, the infosec community has been brought to the table and can have a major voice in how these issues get fixed. Are we ready for the challenge?