The increase in cybercrime, a growing global phenomenon, is likely to drive an increase in the use of complicated mathematical algorithms to encrypt sensitive data. And that may just about save the Blackberry name from being consigned to the history books.
That’s the view of Geoff Green, president and chief executive officer of Myntex Inc. Green says: “The rapid adoption of digital technology and the scale of cybercrime globally represent significant challenges not only to law enforcement agencies but to each and every one of us that increasingly relies on IT and especially mobile communications to live and do business. Each year, about 556 million people fall victim to online fraud. More than 230 million identities are exposed and victims lose around €290 billion as a result of online criminality, making cybercrime more profitable than the global trade in cocaine, heroin and marijuana combined.
“For years, one of the most effective weapons in the battle against cybercriminals has been the Blackberry. Widely regarded as the most secure smartphone on the market and the mainstay of encrypted communications for governments and large corporates, sales of the devices have declined dramatically over the last few years but last month’s announcements by chief executive John Chen have given those of us at the forefront of this battle renewed hope.”
In July, Chen launched Blackberry’s first touchscreen-only Android handset, in a bid to diversify its range of devices and turn round performance of the firm’s hardware division. The Dtek50 smartphone offers improved security over rival Android devices – incorporating unique internal hardware, with chips protected by cryptographic keys to prevent tampering and thwart hackers – and will cost less than the firm’s previous handset. He also promised more to come with a further new phone to be unveiled before March 2017.
Earlier in July, Chen had revealed that although quarterly Blackberry sales were only around the 500,000 mark, claims that he is presiding over a dying company were well wide of the mark.
Fundamentally its security-focused software business is good and, financially, the quarterly results were up 21 per cent when compared to the same period last year.
“And that’s good”, says Green, adding: “because business owners and individuals everywhere are going to have to think more and more closely about how important privacy is to them and how they are going to ensure their digital privacy is maintained going forward as the frequency and sophistication of cybercrime increases.”
The scale of cybercrime in Europe is particularly worrying. Its residents and businesses provide attractive targets because, compared to a lot of the world, the Internet infrastructure is advanced and economies and payment systems are increasingly Internet-based. In July, in the UK, the Office for National Statistics revealed that almost six million cybercrimes were committed last year. That’s as much as every other type of crime committed in England and Wales combined.
Again in the UK, research shows that 74 per cent of small businesses suffered some form of data breach in 2015 and that the average financial impact on a business doubled between 2014 and 2015. And, across the wider European continent, individual nations reported an average increase of 30 per cent in the number of cybercrime cases being reported, which many believe poses a significant threat to the internal market, economy and security of the European Union.
Green continues: “European firms, in particular, lag behind when it comes to implementing the highest cyber security standards. We see an alarming level of complacency, especially among smaller businesses, who falsely believe that cybercrime is an issue only larger corporations have to deal with. But the issue of cybersecurity for small businesses is made even more pressing by proposed new European regulations aimed at protecting customer data.”
The EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation will come into force in 2018 and could result in companies being fined up to €20m or 4% of their annual turnover, whichever is greater, for allowing any security breaches to compromise customer data. We’ve all seen the headlines involving hackers or coordinated groups of activists leaking or stealing customers’ personal details or other sensitive corporate information, not only causing financial losses but huge reputational damage for the businesses involved.
According to Green: “Smaller businesses face a disproportionate risk when it comes to falling prey to cybercriminals. Many are so focused on conducting or growing their business day to day, they have neither the time nor the dedicated in-house expertise to concentrate on the issue.”
“Add to that the increasing adoption of smartphones and tablets, mobile and cloud computing, the flexibility now given to many workforces to work remotely – often using public wifi zones – and the fact that small businesses are often attacked because they provide a less challenging gateway into bigger firms’ systems elsewhere along the supply chain and the scale of the problem is clear.”
So instead of continually playing catch up with the latest hardware and software trends or newest threats and fixes, what can business owners do to get on the front foot when it comes to choosing, managing and updating the best technology and associated security systems for their operation?
“For a start, they should stop thinking that size has anything to do with the likelihood of an attack,” asserts Green. “It’s not always about size or money, rather it’s often about what industry you are in, what you do, who you are connected to and what data you hold as well as cyber espionage.
“In business, the first step in bolstering your cyber resilience has to be a proper audit so that you know where your potential vulnerabilities lie – what sensitive information do you use, for what tasks? Who has access to it; where is it stored and what are your procedures for remote working and password protection? You need to assess what would be compromised if your data is stolen, paying particular attention to high value items like contract terms, financial and tax records, personnel and customer records. Having nothing to hide is not the same as having nothing to lose.
“People are wising up to increasingly professional looking phishing scams where pop ups on websites or emails in inboxes ask for sensitive information that criminals can use for financial gain, identity theft or the introduction of malware and malicious lines of code. But how many people consider the impact of their everyday online communications with people being intercepted?
“Many smaller businesses are starting to appreciate the potential severity of cyber-attacks turning to proper password management, secure payment processing systems, automatic back-ups, antivirus packages and off the shelf security software for help. But encryption, a particularly powerful tool in the fight against cybercrime, where Blackberry may have a renewed role to play, is yet to generate as much momentum as you might have thought.
Green continues: “Myntex implements PGP for BlackBerry according to the highest cryptographic standards using the most advanced mathematical processes available. As computing power increases, the algorithms for PGP’s key strength are increased to match so that your PGP solution remains secure well into the future. Since its invention in 1991, a tried and tested protocol for encrypting and authenticating data, PGP has become the de facto standard in email encryption and the mainstay of encryption technology for BlackBerrys.
“It works independently of other security software loaded onto or built into your smartphone and allows you to send email messages that only the intended recipient can read. Users can also authenticate their identity when sending secure messages, so the recipient can guarantee the message wasn’t sent by an imposter.
“Standard email is a very insecure means of sending information. And wireless communication on a mobile device is even less secure. Messages aren’t difficult to intercept and aren’t encrypted by default. They’re sent as plain, readable text, and any third party determined enough to intercept them can read the message, clone the account, download the attached file or view the embedded photographs without the sender or recipient ever knowing. Postal mail is sent in envelopes, to protect it from prying eyes and prevent anyone from reading the content. Essentially, our PGP solution, although infinitely more complex, serves exactly the same purpose as the envelope.
“Of course, it can’t prevent the most determined and expert of cybercriminals from intercepting an email message, but since messages are encrypted it can render the content unreadable and useless. Even for Myntex – there are no backdoors!”
Several popular online applications already utilise encryption for email messages, video-telephony and instant messaging, with WhatsApp recently announcing a major security upgrade to its network. Developers at major technology brands such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Google are all believed to be working on new encrypted email and instant messaging projects too.
Green concludes: “We all communicate banking details, project updates, medical information, travel plans, tax codes, even gossip through emails, texts, instant messages and phone calls every day but few of us consider what would be compromised if that data was stolen, altered, diverted or exposed. With cybercrime now more profitable than the global trade in cocaine, heroin and marijuana combined, and more and more criminals exploiting the vulnerabilities of digital communications to commit a range of crimes, encrypted communications must play an increasingly important role in all of our lives in future. And that could well signal a renaissance for the trusted Blackberry brand.”