The recent Mirai cyberattack, where several devices connected in the ecosystem collectively referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) were hacked, converted into botnets, and directed to execute distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on popular websites such as Twitter, Spotify and SoundCloud, highlight the continuing need to battle cyber threats. So do the banking hacks of last month when 3.2 million debit cards were compromised, most likely due to a malware in the systems of Hitachi Payment Services which managed the “switch” to inter-bank networks. Reliance on the existing cybersecurity frameworks to address these threats—notifying users, tracking the source of the hack and improving protection for the future—seems to send the message out that nothing new can be done beyond more of the same old. Cyber threats are a necessary evil and we just have to protect ourselves better against them.
But on closer analysis, the nature of these attacks, especially Mirai, reveal how ineffective more of the same old is soon headed to be. In a world of connected washing machines, hair dryers, air conditioners and television sets, an intrusion into any one of the connected points—and there are many of them indeed—can result in drastic consequences for both the virtual and real world.
Current scenario-building exercises that envisage critical infrastructure projects being taken over by dangerous third parties or rogue nations, or huge swathes of private information stolen from information repositories such as servers and cloud storage systems, ignore the equally disturbing consequences arising from the inefficient functioning of devices connected to the Internet. Even the response of banks to the debit card hack mirrored this sentiment when predominant attention was devoted to the quantity of money skimmed through the unauthorized transfers to arrive at a figure much lower than previous hacks elsewhere.
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