TNW Conference: Cybercrime: The Biggest Threat in the Digital Age

Raj Samani believes that cyber-security industry and consumers need to wake up about cyber-crime.
Christopher McFadden

Cybersecurity is of vital importance to individuals and companies the world over. Whilst most of us are careful online and have antivirus software, some believe this is not enough.

One expert who is voicing his concerns is Raj Samani, a senior staff member at McAfee. He believes the cybersecurity industry needs to step up to the plate.

He also believes consumers need to be more aware of what devices they bring into their own home and which companies they support online. 

Cybersecurity needs to be taken more seriously

Our lives becoming ever more connected to the internet. From smartphones to smart meters, more and more of our lives are becoming vulnerable to cybercrime.

This has prompted many cybersecurity experts to have some very serious worries about the future of our privacy. Users and cybersecurity professionals really do need to be more proactive about cybersecurity.

TNW Conference: Cybercrime: The Biggest Threat in the Digital Age
Source:British Airways

Raj Samani, the Chief Scientist at McAfee, believes the cybersecurity industry needs to do more about cybercrime. Giving a talk at the 2019 TNW Conference this morning, Raj has some very serious concerns about the future.

He recalls how he only had one device connected to the net when he started in the industry. This was his old dial-up modem that was only used for about an hour a day.

Now his family alone has over 65 products around the home that are connected to the internet. Most of these have some form of microphone which, whilst "off" are still able to monitor and potentially record everything said in the privacy of your own home.

Each and every single one of these devices provides a potential gateway for cybercriminals to get their hands on your personal information. For this reason, Raj encourages the cybersecurity industry to take cybersecurity a lot more seriously.

Whilst they do make great efforts to deal with malware, viruses, spyware, and trojans, Raj believes his peers have become a little blinkered about other issues like ransomware

TNW Conference: Cybercrime: The Biggest Threat in the Digital Age

Stand up to the big boys

Some big players on the net, like Facebook, collate and use massive amounts of our personal information. Whilst this is generally used to marketing if they have a data breach criminals have access to enormous amounts of personal information about users.

Social media sites could also, potentially, collude with governments to control and "shop out" citizens. In North Korea, as Raj points out, a team of hackers called Sunteam is actually used to track and monitor citizens.

This has been used to monitor so-called 'defectors' which has some very serious real-life consequences for them if caught.

Raj believes that we should all use our collective buying power to just say no to companies who are irresponsible with our data. If they fail to look after our information, or actively collude against us, just walk away.

If more of us did this, it would impact the company's revenue and force change very quickly indeed. The Invisible hand will sort the wheat from the chaff.

Movements like the #deletefacebook could be used to pressure companies to be more responsible. 

What is the cost of Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity breaches are not just an annoyance for victims. They can have some very serious real-life impacts.

From financial costs to the emotional strain caused by things like ransomware, we all need to be more careful about what we do online.

According to Raj, cybersecurity is estimated to cost the economy somewhere in the order 1.6% of GDP. This is not a small amount of money. 

This loss in revenue has further impacts on the economy. It could potentially lead to people losing jobs which impacts families and threatens the future growth of an economy.

Raj also encourages consumers to seriously think about what products they are buying and bringing into their home. Never before in history has our personal privacy been invaded to such an extent as today.

And what's worse, we are actually buying the listening devices

But it's not just an issue for individuals. Cybersecurity is of the utmost importance to the sanctity of a nation. Cyberwarfare is common practice today and is employed by all major nations around the world.

It's not just Russia and China who are to blame. Smaller nations like Turkmenistan and Mongolia have active cyberwarfare departments who are battling it out online.

From direct assaults on a nation's secrets, cyber warfare can also be used to manipulate the population. Some experts even believe that it has been used to influence elections in countries.

Big Brother is listening

George Orwell's book 1984 was intended to be a warning about the potential dark future of an overbearing authoritarian Socialist government called the English Socialist Party. In the dystopian future, the state constantly monitored it's citizens and punished them for "thought" crimes. 

But even George could not have imagined that it would be the citizens themselves who would actually buy and install "bugs" themselves. 

But it's not just those consumer electronics that could potentially be a problem.

Raj Samani, at his TNW Conference talk, highlighted a potentially sinister side to smart meters. Whilst they are intended to provide non-intrusive load monitoring of your electrical consumption, they can be used to provide information on the household's habits.

Peaks in electrical consumption can provide information on you like: 

- What times you tend to cook dinner;

- When you are out of the house;

- What times and frequency that you make a cup of tea, and;

- When you use a treadmill.

To name but a few. 

In some cases, Smart Meter data has actually been used by Police to find and arrest Cannabis farmers. They could, in theory, be used by criminals or authorities to gather the information that could be used against you. 

As Raj highlights, you could tell that an occupant is using a treadmill, for example, when they are supposed to be on sick leave or are claiming incapacity benefits. 

Our private privacy and personal data is under attack and will only get worse if we become apathetic to issues around cybersecurity.

Who is Raj Simani?

TNW Conference: Cybercrime: The Biggest Threat in the Digital Age
Raj Samani: Source: TNW 2019

Raj is Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow for the cybersecurity firm, McAfee. He has assisted multiple law enforcement agencies in cybercrime cases and is a Special Advisor to the European Cybercrime Centre.

In addition, Raj is currently the Cloud Alliance’s Strategic Advisor for EMEA and is on the advisory councils for Infosecurity Europe and Infosecurity Magazine. He is the author of the book ‘Applied Cyber Security and the Smart Grid’ and has published numerous security papers.