An Introduction to Cybersecurity Fundamentals

By 2023, the cybersecurity market is expected to grow to over 250 billion dollars. That makes it one of the fastest-growing and largest sectors in IT, globally.

Cybersecurity is a buzzword that’s often heard, and most people have a notion about what it consists of. But the things you may not know are always the things others will try to exploit. In this article, you’ll get a basic breakdown of what cybersecurity is and hopefully realize the onus is largely on you to stay safe.

What Is Cybersecurity?

In the plainest possible sense, cybersecurity refers to the securing of data on a computer.

From a broader standpoint, cybersecurity encompasses all the processes, practices, programs, laws, devices, and tools used to preserve the integrity of data within a digital infrastructure. That may sound needlessly verbose, but the truth is that cybersecurity is an all-encompassing field.

Anything you do to protect data on your computer or prevent events that compromise your processed, stored or transmitted data is part of cybersecurity. That can be hiring a world-class team of experts or it can be as simple as locking your mobile phone with a password.

What Are You Protecting Against?

You’ve been reading about compromised data and keeping data safe, which begs the question. What are you trying to keep it safe from?

In essence, it’s any kind of attempt to damage or access information. This can include access that is ultimately benign or done without sinister motives. Any point of access that is unsecured opens up the possibility of major losses in the future.

Cyber-attacks can fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Cybercrime – much like traditional crime, this type of cyber-attack is primarily motivated by financial gain. This can be any of a number of things, including credit card fraud and ransomware attacks. Experts estimate that up to six trillion dollars a year are lost to cybercrime attacks.
  • Cyber Warfare – this is another type of attack whose main goal is achieving a political end of some kind. It is now – and is expected to in the future – pose the biggest threat to national sovereignty.
  • Cyberterrorism – defined by Kevin G. Coleman as:

“The premeditated use of, or threat of, disruptive activities against computers and/or networks, with intent to cause harm, be it social, ideological, religious, political or similar goals. Or to intimidate anyone in pursuit of such goals.”

Generally speaking, cybersecurity threats will have one or more of those three drivers. The consequences of cyberattacks will respond to their ultimate motivating factors.

To achieve their ends, cybercriminals use any of a number of techniques. Phishing scams, for instance, are quite popular. These refer to attempts to extract sensitive information by assuming the identity of a trusted individual or entity.

Viruses are still very much a weapon used by cybercriminals as well, as are trojans, spyware, and malware. For more political ends, they might use propaganda, misinformation, or any other avenue that allows them to penetrate ideological defenses.

Notable Cases in the News

Among the most alarming cases of cybercrime in the news recently was a ransomware attack on a hospital in Rouen, France. Ransomware attacks take over a system and essentially hold it hostage until the perpetrator’s demands are met.

The hospital was categorical in refusing to submit to the demands of the criminals and said it wouldn’t pay for access to their files and systems. Instead, the hospital was forced to return to using pencil and paper.

Hospitals have slowly become a favorite target of cybercriminals. Patient data is often of a very sensitive nature and hospitals tend to work with tightly-allocated budgets that don’t leave much to deal with cybersecurity issues.

A similar case in February occurred in the U.K. at Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. The authority’s computers were reportedly locked by what experts are calling a probable ransomware attack. The council hasn’t made an official statement about the nature of the attack, but their website could be down for weeks.

These are just two examples that illustrate just how damaging a cyberattack can be. With so many systems entirely reliant on the underlying digital infrastructure, it’s only a matter of time before such attacks end up endangering people’s lives.

Security by Design & Privacy by Design

The urgent nature of cybersecurity coupled with the rapid rise of successful cyberattacks demands a fundamental reshaping of our design process.

For much of the history of systems design, privacy and security were issues to be tackled after the foundation was built. It’s increasingly evident that locking the barn door after the horses have bolted is a poor way to handle security.

Instead, many experts advocate proactive and preventative measures rather than remedial ones in the design of systems. In other words, the privacy and security elements would be a fundamental part of the engineering process from start to finish.

One company that’s implementing this approach is the 2.7 billion-dollar Akamai Technologies, a cybersecurity and Cloud service provider from Massachusetts. Their solutions are designed from the ground up with essential security tools for businesses.

If the security tools are deployed at the architecture level in a carrier’s network, it greatly increases that carrier’s ability to repel and deal with threats. Rather than loading up on third-party products, this approach makes the entire process much more secure.

Protecting Yourself

To reiterate, cybersecurity is any activity you do to safeguard your data. That can take the form of systemic prevention mechanisms, such as:

  • Two-factor authentication
  • Data encryption
  • Keeping your OS, browser, antivirus and other software up to date
  • Password managers that let you generate strong passwords and store them securely

But it also involves certain habits and behaviors, such as:

  • Caution when using unsecure networks, like WiFi in public areas
  • Making sure communications are coming from a trusted source
  • Regularly changing passwords
  • Doing regular data backups
  • Don’t click on any links in emails, enter the official website in the browser and navigate from there
  • If someone contacts you claiming to be a certain person or entity, don’t give out any information; first, contact them via a number you already know or an official email

The Best Defense Is Awareness

Cybersecurity isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. And it’s certainly not something that only IT companies need to worry about.

Just about every modern business relies on their digital infrastructure to the point that loss of access or security breaches could be catastrophic.

Cybersecurity is everyone’s job and it starts with taking all the right precautions and making sure you’re using safe methodologies.

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