Right now, someone you know will be making a purchase online. Several people will be downloading or sending an email. And it’s a safe bet that while you are reading this, at least one of your nearest and dearest will be engaging in a conversation on one social media platform or another.
The unrelenting adoption of digital communications technology into our lives has meant the way we live we and the way we do business has changed radically in the last few years. We are increasingly dependent on electronic networks and information systems, smartphones, tablets and the cloud, for work and at home.
One in every four purchases in the UK is now made via the Internet and it seems every organisation, including the Government, is attempting to push more and more customer interaction online. But along with the many benefits of our ‘always on’ digital world come some important practicalities to consider – not least the issues of cybersecurity, and the individual’s right to privacy.
According to July’s Crime Survey for England and Wales, released by the Office for National Statistics, almost six million cybercrimes were committed last year with more than two million categorised as computer misuse offences, 0.6 million described as unauthorised access to personal information (hacking) and 3.8 million classified as fraud offences. That means there is now a greater likelihood of us being scammed online than being mugged in a dark alley or, for that matter, falling victim to any other type of crime.
Published for the first time, the shocking official figures on cybercrime are similar to the existing headline figures covering all other crime survey offences with bank and credit account fraud accounting for a combined 2.5 million incidents.
Online banking transactions are especially at risk. Even if the correct password and PIN are used remotely, nobody can be absolutely certain that the user is the genuine account holder. As long as the card hasn’t been reported stolen or lost and there are sufficient funds in place to cover a transaction, payments will be authorised.
Rather depressingly, because both the frequency and sophistication of cybercrime is increasing. Authorities often lack the requisite resources or skills, and there is little coordinated cross-border evidence gathering to prevent it, so there is little chance of many perpetrators ever being caught.
Criminals love the online environment. Anonymity means there’s no need for a balaclava. It’s quick, mobile and comfortable. Just sitting behind a computer screen can net thousands of pounds; provide the chance to expose or steal our identities; create blackmail opportunities, or allow the nefarious sharing of sensitive personal information that we’d rather keep private.
Fortunately, most of us are wising up to the increasingly professional looking phishing scams where pop ups on websites or emails in inboxes ask for sensitive information. But how many people consider the impact of their everyday conversations with other people being intercepted?
Email is, in fact, 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. Any third party determined enough to intercept them can read the message, clone an account, download the attached file or view our embedded photographs without the sender or recipient ever knowing.
As a nation, we were outraged by the phone hacking scandal but how many of us even give a second thought to the fact that our private communications might be being hacked every day without our knowledge?
Geoff Green, president and chief executive officer of Myntex Inc., the largest provider of trusted personal, enterprise and small business encryption solutions in Canada, with a growing sales presence worldwide, says: “The digital age has transformed virtually every aspect of life and we are increasingly reliant on the ubiquity of cyber space. Whether making a purchase, sharing a secret, banking or even gossiping about the latest goings on, it’s now second nature for people to do so online.
“Unsurprisingly, as our time spent online increases so does the level of cybercrime. Globally, the last 12 months have witnessed the largest ever number of cybercrimes recorded. About 556 million people became victims while more than 230 million of their identities were illegally and damagingly exposed. Somewhat more surprisingly, even though the UK is a particularly attractive target for criminals because of its relatively advanced mobile and Internet infrastructure, the public still harbours a significant degree of complacency, falsely believing that cybercrime is an issue mainly businesses have to deal with.
“Off the shelf security software sales are buoyant, PIN and password management has improved, and more people take the time to schedule data back-ups these days but the everyday use of encrypted communications in the fight against cybercrime is yet to generate as much momentum as you might have thought.”
Put simply, encrypting your communications is a way to secure the digital data being communicated between devices and a method of authenticating both the sender and receiver of that data. 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 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, PGP has become the de facto standard in email encryption and the mainstay of encryption technology for BlackBerrys – widely regarded as the most secure smartphones on the market. It is a tried and tested protocol for encrypting and authenticating data.
“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. 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!”
Green concludes: “We communicate banking details, 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. Having nothing to hide is not the same as having nothing to lose. Postal mail is sent in envelopes, to protect it from prying eyes and prevent anyone from reading it. PGP encryption, though more complex, serves exactly the same purpose.
“Cybercrime is now more profitable than the global trade in cocaine, heroin and marijuana combined, and more and more criminals are exploiting the vulnerabilities of digital communications to commit a range of crimes that cause significant losses to victims, be they financial or otherwise.
“Criminals will continue to deploy ever more sophisticated attacks against us so, in my opinion, it’s inevitable that a growing number of people will take proactive steps to protect themselves and that encrypted communications will play an increasingly vital role in all of our lives in future.”