How You or Your Company Could Be Vulnerable to a Cyberattack

As we now face a new, exciting chapter of the internet in the "Metaverse," we also face other opportunities for cyberattacks on our personal information and corporate data.

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Could you or your business become the victim of a cyberattack? These notorious attacks don't just happen to the Colonial Pipeline, Facebook and cryptocurrency platforms. They happen to vulnerable mid-sized businesses, startups and even individuals like you. Just as the attack on the Colonial Pipeline affected 50 million customers, the Facebook breach exposed half a billion customers' data, and the BadgerDAO breach cost users of the DeFi platform $120 million, a cyberattack on you or your company could be debilitating — and not just to your finances and the finances of your customers, but also to your reputation and therefore your future prospects for success.

Ways you and your business could be vulnerable to an attack include: smart devices, AWS or other centralized external cloud services, faulty code issues, phishing scams and ransomware attacks. There are many others, but let's look at these points of vulnerability to get an overview of the dangers they present and the best ways to prevent them.

The IoT (internet of things) era is upon us, connecting our lives in quick and convenient ways. Along with these conveniences, however, come inherent security risks. Smart devices, including refrigerators and cars, are connected to Wi-Fi and could make personally identifiable information vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Wi-Fi today is secured with the WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) protocol, which, though deemed more secure than its predecessors and classified as government-grade security, is considered vulnerable due to a flaw discovered in 2017. Through a "KRACK," or key reinstallation attack, a cyber attacker is able to read encrypted data traveling between smart devices and access points. Personal information, including passwords, credit card numbers, private messages and photos, can all be accessed through this method. The attacker may even be able to add and manipulate data on a device connected to Wi-Fi. Ransomware or other malware could be attached to a site using KRACK.

If at all possible, refrain from using public Wi-Fi, as this is always a risk. Just changing the password of your Wi-Fi network won't prevent or stop a KRACK attack, though occasionally changing one's password is a good idea in general.

To help prevent attacks, update the operating systems and firmware of all your devices and your router. Another measure of security when connected to public Wi-Fi is using a VPN (virtual private network) which allows a secure connection to an alternate network. Lastly, if you must use public Wi-Fi and cannot use a VPN, make sure you at least use SSL (secure sockets layer) connections only by choosing the "always use HTTPS" option in your browser.

And keep in mind that all smart devices are vulnerable to these attacks, not just laptops. The most vulnerable of all are Android mobile devices.

Businesses using Amazon Web Services (AWS) are vulnerable because AWS uses centralized data storage. Any centralized system comes with the security risk of having a single point of failure and is therefore vulnerable to hacks. AWS provides most of the cloud security infrastructure for companies, though research shows 90% of the Amazon Simple Storage Service accounts are vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Solutions involving decentralized, blockchain-based alternatives eliminate single points of failure in cloud security and may also feature decentralized login credential storage. For example, enabling a user's login information to remain only on that user's device, not in a centrally-accessible data repository, protects data from cyber attacks most effectively.

Faulty coding issues of communication networks and systems are part of human error and are to be expected. They can be avoided, though, and for the sake of security they must. Having a code — especially one expected to carry sensitive or personal information — audited by a specialized team before a system goes live and then at various intervals is essential. Make sure systems are well maintained and all software is up to date, as even an incorrectly configured firewall could create a security vulnerability.

Phishing scams via email are still a common way for hackers to gain private information from individuals, and for them to access vast business networks and their data. In this case, a deceptive false message is used, sometimes with the pretense of being from a bank, government or other trusted company, often even utilizing a convincing-looking logo from the agency or company. The email often claims an urgent requirement for sensitive information ironically due to some "security breach." Through this method, the hacker gains credentials that they may then use to access personal information or even funds. In addition, be wary of unauthorized and unfamiliar email attachments that might contain viruses or malware.

Ransomware, a very common attack method in 2021, is a kind of extortion via the internet. The victim is made unable to access data or perform essential functions until a stated ransom is paid. In exchange for this ransom, the victim is then offered instructions to restore the system, or given some kind of decryption key.

Most often, ransomware attacks are carried out through malicious parties inside an organization, security misconfigurations or human error. The 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found 85% of these attacks use the "human element." This suggests more careful attention to human resources, and best practices could be crucial to preventing this kind of attack, as well as keeping up to date on software security measures.

As we now face a new, exciting chapter of the internet in the "Metaverse," we also face other opportunities for cyberattacks on our personal information and corporate data. Individuals, as well as organizations, will need to monitor the data entered into these new systems for entertainment, education and a host of other applications. Virtual worlds will necessitate the same — if not more strict — levels of security and caution we already exercise in the physical world and for our online devices.

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