The Dismal State of Cybersecurity Today

According to the 2018 Consumer Cybersecurity Study published last October, 34 percent of Americans reported that their personal information had been compromised in the past year. This is not a new phenomenon. For more than a decade, IT security has made headlines due to cybercrime activities. Yet many consumers remain in the dark about how to protect their information, even as trust in companies, and their ability to assist with this task, is waning.

Growing Use of Smart Technology

When smart technology first made its big debut in the market, it was primarily used by businesses and entrepreneurs who worked from home. These devices helped to promote productivity with promises of cost-efficiency in the long run. However, technology has now made its way into entertainment and classrooms.

It has also made its way into our homes, via not just desktops, laptops and tablets, but smart home technology like Google Home and Alexa. Virtually all these devices are connected to the internet, opening up our personal information to malicious attacks. The unfortunate truth is that the more smart devices consumers purchase and use, the wider the landscape we are providing for hackers to operate in.

Lack of Consumer Knowledge

One of the primary reasons that hackers have managed to access and manipulate consumer data is the lack of consumer knowledge. Despite our expanding use of technology, it appears consumer knowledge has not expanded with it. According to the Head of Security and Fraud Solutions at First Data, EJ Jackson, the 2018 Consumer Cybersecurity Study conducted by his company shows that consumers lacked awareness about how much of their information was on the dark web.

Hackers have capitalized on this lack of consumer awareness by attacking more and more credit card users. There are countless ways this can happen to you, such as by having your credit card account accessed while logged onto an unsecured Wi-Fi hot spot, or even unintentionally providing your information number by number to someone posing as a customer service representative from your bank. By the same methods, debit card fraud has also been on the rise. In fact, over the past three years, the rate of compromise has nearly doubled.

Human Error

Even those who know better often fall prey to a cybersecurity threat due to human error. Consequently, hackers are now moving away from striking areas of a business where security is strictly enforced. Instead, they are attacking servers, applications and workstations used by regular employees. In fact, Forbes reports that hackers rely heavily on human error and user interaction.

This was perhaps best illustrated by the Uber breach. In this instance, a software developer unknowingly handed the keys over to hackers when he left his AWS credentials accessible on GitHub. This IT security lapse allowed hackers to steal the information of 600,000 Uber drivers and 57,000 Uber consumers.

Social Media Safety Concerns

Let’s be honest. People have been landing themselves in trouble on social media since the dawn of its creation. However, a new type of cybersecurity threat has emerged on these platforms: the organized hacking of social media accounts. Considering how many other apps and shops are now tied to social media accounts like Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter, unauthorized access is a serious problem. So far, 18 percent of Americans say they have had their social media accounts compromised.

There is another threat on social media, as evidenced by Russian bots on Twitter and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. As many already know by now, in the case of Facebook, the behavioral data of 87 million users of the world’s most popular social networking site was made available to the British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica. The firm then used the information gathered to manipulate voting behavior in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Reduced Trust in Companies

When it comes to breaches, many household brands have faced their turn with hacker troubles. Companies that have been breached include the following:

  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management
  • Equifax
  • Premera Blue Cross
  • Anthem
  • Citibank
  • JP Morgan Chase

With companies this big failing to keep personal data safe, it’s no wonder that more and more consumers are losing faith in companies’ abilities to ward off cybersecurity threats. Many consumers have now become skeptical about not just mobile payment options but also social media.

Desensitized Consumers

As more and more household names make it to the list of companies breached, Americans have actually become desensitized. Think of the last time there was a data breach for a company with products or services you use. It is likely that you checked to see if your information was compromised, maybe changed a few passwords, checked your credit report for another month or so and then hoped for the best.

Subsequently, experts in the IT security field worry that desensitization may make people fail to treat cybersecurity with the level of urgency it deserves. This could have serious implications for governments, businesses and consumers.

We already live in an era where presidential elections of a major world power can be manipulated by private agencies in other countries, where banking information can be stolen with a swipe and where one successful social media hack could put all your information out into the dark web for hackers to use. Thus, organizations and individuals need to treat cybersecurity with more urgency, not less.

From the classroom to the corporate offices, organizations should make it their business to educate individuals on the importance of keeping their information safe, and how to do so. In the interim, consumers need to take this initiative on their own.