Cyber Security – Taming the Menace

The numbers of cyber attacks continue to rise every year and cybercriminals keep finding new ways and means to breach cybersecurity. According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report – 2017 there are “357 million new malware variants in 2016” and “98 million bots.” There was one malware detected in every 131 emails scanned. Cerber Ransomware, Locky Ransomware, and CryptXXX are some of the significant malware threats mentioned in the report. These attacks take place through the exploitation of vulnerabilities in software. People commonly refer to such vulnerabilities as zero-day vulnerabilities. The term zero-day implies that the software developers and administrators are not aware of the existence of these vulnerabilities.

The increasing number of cyber attacks is alarming for individuals, businesses, and governments. The risks associated with such attacks are very high. Symantec reports that the hackers breached personal information of more than 1.1 Billion identities in 2016. As per reports, even the US Presidential Election of 2016 was not immune to these attacks. According to a news report published by Reuters, Barack Obama had “ordered intelligence agencies to review cyber attacks and foreign intervention into the 2016 election.”

As we approach towards the era of digitization, online services store more and more personal information. The reliance on online services is also increasing at a rapid pace. Therefore, it is becoming all the more critical for companies to improve their cybersecurity and curb the data theft and service disruptions caused by cyber attacks. Companies are seeking the services and assistance from other hackers to enhance their cybersecurity and fight against cyber-attacks. After all, to beat a cyberattacker, you need to think like one. Moreover, who could be better than a hacker to tackle another hacker? White-hat hackers work for the good cause, while black-hat hackers are those who have criminal intentions.

White Hat Hackers – The Good Guys

It is a common misconception that cyber attackers are always dangerous. They are broadly categorizable into three different categories, white hat, grey hat, and black hat. White-hat hackers are those who help improve cybersecurity by finding vulnerabilities and correcting them. Black-hat hackers, on the other hand, look for weaknesses and use them to attack individuals and companies to steal information. Grey-hat hackers are somewhere in between black-hat and white-hat hackers. For the sake of simplicity, all you need to know is that white-hat hackers are the ‘good guys’ and you could also refer to them as ethical hackers, while Black Hat hackers are the ‘bad guys.’

Most people assume that hackers are nothing but highly skilled computer programmers with knowledge and understanding of computer networks and systems.  Some hackers use their skills to launch cyber attacks, steal information or demand ransom, while others work day and night to improve Cybersecurity.

What is Penetration Testing?

Penetration tests (or pen tests, as cybersecurity professionals call them), involve testing a computer network, system or web-based application to find possible vulnerabilities that a cybercriminal could exploit. The tasks of a penetration tester may include the following:

  1. Finding vulnerabilities: It is the process of using various pen-testing methods to find the weaknesses that could lead to a security breach
  2. Launching simulated cyber-attacks: After seeing the vulnerabilities, the next step is to initiate a mock attack to showcase how cybercriminals can exploit a given vulnerability
  3. Using social engineering on employees: Social engineering tactics may involve tricking the employees into leaking information that could lead to a security breach. For example, cheating an employee into revealing his login credentials for the company’s server.
  4. Documenting the results: The testers should record every vulnerability, and the possible ways in which the vulnerability is exploitable
  5. Suggesting security improvements: Suggesting steps to improve the security and fixing the vulnerabilities

Cybersecurity as a Profession

Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand due to the increase in cyber attacks over the years. The job of a cybersecurity specialist is to find vulnerabilities in networks and systems by using various methods of ethical hacking. The position comes with enormous responsibilities and a lucrative paycheck. According to a Forbes article, “cybersecurity professionals report an average salary of $116,000, or approximately $55.77 per hour.”  According to another Forbes article, the ISACA predicts “a global shortage of two million cyber-security professionals by 2019.” So it is clear that information security professionals are in high demand.

Keeping in mind the demand for Cybersecurity professionals, those with interest in computers should consider this an ideal time for them to start a career in the field of cybersecurity. Individuals who wish to advance their career in cybersecurity can opt for a Cyber Security Master’s Degree. It will help them get a head start and prepare them for the extremely demanding and challenging work of a cybersecurity professional.