In 2002, I had my first exposure to computers with the most basic computer class called “Computers,” where we played games on Mavis Beacon to improve our typing. For many, that would be our last formal education in the world of computing. But look around, in 2016, 84 percent of all stock trades are by high frequency computers, and 86 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 carry around smartphones, the examples of technology and computing integration are nearly endless. Unfortunately, wherever there is money, you will also find those who want to exploit and take advantage of the system. No one ever got robbed at an ATM until ATMs existed and there were no hackers until the Internet and computers existed.
People have always been terrified of being robbed, but being hacked? Many people and businesses still regard hackers as nerds who live in their mother’s basement. But again, it’s 2016, and times have changed, and bank robbers may make the local news, but hackers are making the national news, just look at the recent headlines. But let’s say you aren’t a presidential candidate or never had a MySpace account, you have probably been a victim, but just didn’t pay attention to it. In February 2015, Anthem, the second-largest health insurer in the United States, was hacked, potentially exposing approximately 80 million members’ names, dates of birth, social security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. According to Anthem’s website, the perpetrator’s identity is still undiscovered. In 2014, hackers obtained the names, passwords, email address, physical addresses, and other information from “a large amount” of eBay’s 148 million active members. Need more examples, in the past 4 years, Target, T-Mobile, ScottTrade, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot, AOL, Adobe, Tumblr, Evernote, Linkedin, and Snapchat have all been hacked, and the list goes on and on. You can see the biggest data breaches here represented by visually pleasing bubbles.
But, those are all big companies, and sure, though they are losing your information, that’s on them, and hacking won’t impact me in my day to day life, right? Wrong. The reality is that anything that is connected to the Internet is vulnerable, that means your smartphone, your smart TV, and even your car. In July 2015, a Wired editor volunteered to be the victim of a car-hack. As he drove a Jeep Cherokee down the highway, two programmers took full control of every computerized function within the vehicle, the entertainment system, the dashboard, the steering, the brakes, and the transmission. Chrysler, with the help of the two programmers, has since released a patch to correct the exploit, but other exploits are surely coming.
Unfortunately, short of going off the grid, it isn’t possible to avoid being a victim in the current computerized world. However, the best defense for both businesses and individuals alike is to be proactive. Stop ignoring those updates on your computer (or notices from your car company to return to the dealership to have a patch installed), be skeptical about the email you receive, and change your passwords. In fact, read this guide from Carnegie Mellon about choosing good passwords. For businesses, be smart about what you store electronically and give very real thought to how that information is stored and protected.