A Layman’s Introduction to cybersecurityUnderstanding cyberattacks on computers, networks and data.

By Theo Bogatsu

Socialisation pundits have spoken; the post COVID-19 era is bringing in a ‘new normal’.

Part of this new normal is increased digital interconnectedness. In the new normal, people are expected to fulfill their professional and life vocations remotely through the use of cyber technology. Communications networks will be right at the centre of this transformation.

As handy as it is becoming, cyber technology requires a high sense of enlightenment and caution on the part of the user for impact to be made. Cyber space is infested with all kinds of security threats that, if not tackled appropriately, can cause damage to data, networks, computers or any gadgets used to access technology.

Cybercrime, cyber terrorism cyberbullying and misinformation are among the leading threats to sustainable use of the internet.

As many are expected to increase their usage of communications networks through remote connectivity, either at homes or mobile, it is crucial that one applies the necessary measures to prevent cyberattacks. Computer and network security should longer just the preserve of institutional settings anymore. Home networks and mobile gadgets are and will increasingly become targets, particularly in the anticipated highly digitalized ‘new normal’.

This article therefore seeks to raise awareness on cybersecurity threats and outline measures that one can apply to protect their networks and gadgets

What is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity which is sometimes referred to as Information Security is the practice of protecting Systems, Applications and Networks from Digital Attacks. The approach to Cybersecurity is multi-layered and in organizations the People, Process and Technology must all work together for a successful defense against Cyber Attacks. At the core of Information Security is Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability more commonly known as the CIA triad, these three elements are essentially the goals for information Security.

Common cyberattacks in Botswana? (Home networks and office networks)

In general, the most common cyber-attacks in Botswana are Social Engineering related type of attacks, (One way or another we have all come across this type of attack, as you will come to realize). As the name suggests Social Engineering is the psychological manipulation of someone into performing actions or divulging confidential information or information they wouldn’t otherwise share publicly. The attacker lures an unsuspecting victim into clicking a link or visiting an infected website with the goal of infecting or inserting malware on the victim’s endpoint.

There are several ways that a Social Engineering attack can be carried out from Phishing, Vishing, Smishing, Pretexting, Waterholing etc but the most common way that a social Engineering attack is carried out and the method that I will be covering here is through a method referred to as Phishing.

Phishing- Which is typically carried out via email is a technique where the attacker tries to fraudulently get hold of personal or private information or it could just be to trick the victim into clicking a link that could install some malware into your machine- leading to other type of attacks.

There are several types of Phishing and ironically, they also have specific names attached to them beyond the general term of “Phishing”. I will just touch on only two types being Spear Phishing and Whaling.

To give further context to the two types mentioned above- In general Phishing is usually a broadcast or an email sent to a large number of people by the Attacker also known as the Phisher. At one point we have all received an email purportedly from a legitimate or known source asking as to claim a prize, to follow a link to get freebies or fill out a questionnaire and stand a chance to win a fancy gadget.

Spear Phishing is a targeted type of Phishing attack, usually targeted towards someone who handles data or a function of interest, this could be someone who makes payments or handles the payroll or just anyone in relation to what the attacker is trying to achieve.

Whaling on the other hand is the same as Spear Phishing except that the target is a high-profile individual, this could be the CEO, CFO or even a board member as these individuals usually have access to classified information.

Other Common cyber-attacks that have been around for a long time are Malware and Ransomware Attacks briefly described below.

Malware which is a word derived from malicious software is software code which is written specifically for the purpose of malicious intentions, this could be delivered to a victim through Phishing or just by a user clicking on random links on the internet and sometimes it comes hidden in free applications which users usually download to avoid paying for software.

Ransomware In its basic form just lures a user into clicking a link that will install some malicious ware on your machine inevitably encrypting all your data and “holding you at ransom”. If payment is not made the attacker doesn’t give you the key to unencrypt your data and you end up losing your data.

With digital currency around these days the attacker may demand payment in bitcoins as it is faster and could be quite difficult to trace the destination of the funds.

Common ways computers and networks become exposed

The most common ways Computer systems become exposed is because of lack of security updates/patches. Criminals are constantly looking for loopholes to take advantage of and application owners and software developers need to be on their toes, whenever a vulnerability is discovered in their software/application they need to act fast and release a patch to protect their integrity and their users. More often than not attackers gain control of a server or computer system through an existing vulnerability, this could be delivered by means of malware which is installed on a computer system by means of a Phishing attack. Read Part 2 in next week’s edition.

* Theo Bogatsu is a Network Security Engineer at BOFINET

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