The Wonder of Tech is honored to welcome guest author Dr. Rob D’Ovidio.
As the calendar turns over, many technology enthusiasts are left wondering what 2012 has in store for them in terms of new smartphones, tablets, computers, televisions, and online services. Consumers will spend countless hours playing with these new gadgets and online services that offer them alternatives for organizing and managing their lives, staying in touch with friends and family, entertainment, and shopping. If history serves as any guide, criminals too will spend many hours with these new devices and online services looking for ways to exploit the people who use them and the companies that manufacture and offer them.
Given the current technological landscape and the technologies on the immediate horizon, the following trends will top the list of computer security threats in 2012:
– Malware (i.e. spyware, viruses, worms, and Trojan horses) will increasingly target mobile devices and smart phones. The impetus behind this trend is standardization in the cell phone industry. Standardized cell phone operating systems and backwards-compatible hardware create a sizeable base of users for a particular device platform. Those people who write malware now only need to target one or two operating environments in order to infect tens of millions of cell phone users.
– Social media sites will increasingly be the launching point for phishing schemes (or spear phishing schemes) that open people up to fraud victimization. Social media users are more likely to fall victim to phishing schemes that are delivered through these services because of the assumed trust among members of a person’s network. Criminals tend to look to the new services that have the most users in order to maximize their potential targets among a user-base that is still getting accustomed to privacy and security controls. As such, look to see a rash of phishing and online fraud schemes launched through Facebook and Google+ in 2012.
– Video games and entertainment software will increasingly be targeted in attacks and suffer security vulnerabilities. The impetus behind this trend is that games are becoming more social and increasingly have in-game economies that support the purchasing and selling of virtual goods (e.g. swords in World of Warcraft and starships in Star Wars the Old Republic). The money and virtual goods within these video games can easily be traded for real-world currency. This makes gamers and the video game/console accounts, which are often connected to a credit card, attractive targets for online fraud and identity theft schemes. Fraud connected to entertainment software will begin to manifest itself with video games and video game companies being targeted by brand hijacking and phishing attacks.
– We will see a record number of attacks against cloud storage providers. The lure of being able to access your documents, productivity applications, pictures, financial management software, music, and movies across multiple computing devices from anyplace with network connectivity is driving the widespread adoption of cloud services among consumers and business. Consumers and business are, thus, increasingly turning to the cloud to store digital data remotely instead of storing them on desktop computers, laptops, and local servers. Targeting a single cloud service offers criminals the opportunity to gain access to sensitive files that belong to millions of users instead of targeting the local computing infrastructure of individual users or companies separately.
– Consumer privacy vulnerabilities pertaining to geographic location data will increase. Data on the whereabouts of cell phone users is tremendously valuable to advertisers who look to offer customers a better way to qualify sales leads. As such, the travels of cell phone users are increasingly being tracked with and without their consent. To reduce the risk of geographic data being misused, users need to be vigilant in reading the licensing agreements for their cell phone services and apps so they know if their location is being tracked, how location data are used, and who location data is shared with.
– Governments will increase their offensive cyber warfare capacity. The reliance of our financial, energy, transportation, water, agriculture, communication, healthcare, government, and emergency services sectors on computers has made their respective infrastructures particularly vulnerable to people with advanced knowledge of computing and networking technologies. Smaller governments know that it is much cheaper to cause widespread damage to critical infrastructure using cyber warfare techniques than it is using conventional military tactics. As well, it is much easier for smaller nations to compete with the United States and other Western nations in developing offensive cyber weapons than it is to complete with them in developing conventional weaponry.
* Dr. Rob D’Ovidio is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Drexel University, where he teaches and conducts research on computer crime. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you concerned about cybercrime? Have you taken extra steps to protect yourself online? Let us know in the Comments section below.