What you can do in the war on cyber-criminals

By Harvey Dzodin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 1, 2012
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Hackers' year end bonus [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

Hackers' year end bonus [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn] 

What's the cyberworld coming to do with so many recent cyber hack attacks in the last days? An astounding 40,000,000 of tianya.com's users' names and passwords were accessed and leaked. This is about 60 percent of all its registered users. And they are not alone but join a growing roster of victims in China who have been recently hacked-up, electronically-speaking: CSDN (6 million hacked), Duowan (8 million), 7k7k (20 million), and 178 (10 million).

And China is not unique. Just the other day I got a notice from an international relations website that I follow, Stratfor. Thank goodness that I didn't have a paid subscription as hackers apparently sympathetic to super-Wikileaks contributor Bradley Manning hacked into the site and took subscriber credit card information and made $500,000 in rogue charitable donations. What an embarrassment for a website specializing in security!

This is not my first experience of being hacked-up. Two years ago a cyberthief, most likely in Nigeria according to police, somehow captured my Hotmail account and sent emails supposedly from me to all my contacts saying I had been robbed of money and passport in London and that I needed money and lots of it. Thankfully all but one didn't fall for this foul ruse but one friend did and I am sure that the thieves were laughing all the way to the bank.

I suppose if the world is going to end next year, none of this makes much difference. However, since I am one of the few people in China who seem to think that the world will limp on for a lot longer, it does matter. What is frustrating though is that there does not seem to be much that governments or police can do about completely eliminating these destructive practices.

I have a feeling that hacking will always be with us and that hackers will always be one step ahead of computer security programs, Why? Some hackers are greedy common thieves using uncommon technical ingenuity. If only they were to employ their brains legitimately. Others are driven by the quest to do the nearly impossible by hacking into sites thought to be completely secured. Both greed and challenge will guarantee that these nefarious activities will continue unless and until we find a fool-proof way to completely eliminate all technical vulnerabilities.

Of course we need international cooperation, and multi-national alliances are indeed cobbled together on a case-by-case basis. An international treaty banning hacking would also be desirable. But this is hardly enough. Therefore, unfortunately each one of us is on the front lines of this cyber-warfare and we must be careful to a fault. The most we can hope for in the foreseeable future is to minimize our chances of being victimized.

Everyone needs good antivirus software to defeat viruses and other malware and to detect phishing schemes. Passwords need to be changed frequently and to be made strong by using letters, numbers, capitalizations, underscores, etc.

Good common sense must be vigilantly exercised. Emails requesting personal information or requiring the recipient to click to open a file must be closely scrutinized. Some cyber-thieves even specialize in putting up fake websites with web addresses almost identical to established e-commerce sites so when a victim types one letter of the web address wrong, unsuspecting victims see what looks like a legitimate site but in some cases even merely opening the site leads to malware being installed on the victim's computer and/or all of his or her contacts.

There does not seem to be any 100% safe harbor on the internet. We need to be extremely careful when we turn on our computers. The recent experiences of the likes of tianya,com and Stratfor offer ample proof. The best thing that we can do is remember that each time we access the internet we are entering shark-infested waters and should act accordingly.

Harvey Dzodin currently is a Senior Advisor to Tsinghua University. He was Director and Vice President at ABC Television in New York from 1982 until 2004.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.


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