Hackers are a growing threat to our nation. In fact, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm warned recently that “U.S. adversaries already are capable of using cyber intrusions to shut down the U.S. power grid.” Given the cyber crimes committed in just the past few months, no American should be shocked by the energy secretary’s warning. In May 2021 Colonial Pipeline was forced to shut down 5,500 miles of pipeline because of a ransomware attack. Colonial said the pipeline “carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies.” Less than four weeks later (June 1, 2021) JBS, one of the world’s largest beef suppliers, was also shut down because of a ransomware attack.
Perhaps most disturbing is that hackers do not limit their activities to just ransomware. According to CSO there are 11 types of hackers, ranging from Nation-State Hackers paid by governments to Corporate Spies paid to steal patents and future business plans. There are Rogue Gamers who hack to “steal their competitors’ credit caches” and Cryptojackers who mine cryptocurrencies and spread malware. The list seemingly grows with each passing month.
It is time Americans become more aware of the hacker threats lurking on our computers. Too many of us are comfortable as long as we can send photos to family and friends on Facebook or watch amusing videos on TikTok. This naivete and its resulting blindness will only result in more attacks and greater damage. Think that is an overstatement? You may feel differently after seeing the latest fad being marketed to kids: Hardware Hacking.
The simplest, and probably the vaguest, definition for Hardware Hacking is “modifying a piece of existing electronics to use it in a way that it was not necessarily intended.” Sounds innocent enough on the surface. However, there is often more to it. For ex., according to a Sept 2020 article in CyberArk, “With the introduction of more and more IOT and embedded devices in the market, hackers are starting to find firmware exploitation as a more viable mechanism for gaining access into networks and taking over machines.”
This should concern parents given the number of hardware hacking sites for kids that can be found on the internet, such as “Hardware Engineering.” Sure, your child may visit one of these sites simply to learn how to create a video game controller or to build a talking stuffed animal. But how sure are you that once your child learns these skills and interacts with others who are experts in hardware hacking that he/she will not be enticed to learn and practice more intrusive (and perhaps illegal) forms of hardware hacking? Many children have found themselves involved in activities that seemed innocuous in the beginning but quickly spiraled out of control.
Whether it is ransomware, malware, or hardware hacking, we Americans must begin to treat computers as the powerful tools they are. They can be used to “like” photos, play Candy Crush, and even to file your taxes with the IRS. . . But they can also be manipulated by very bad people who think nothing of ruining as many lives as they can. Let us prevent that. For more information on how you can protect your and your children online, and how you can learn more about the digital world, visit Digital Citizen Academy.