There have been several high-profile cyber attacks in the last few of weeks. Chinese hackers attacked the New York Times and Wall Street Journal; Facebook and Apple were also the targets of malicious software attacks in the past. The question is whether or not this is something that regular consumers should be worried about.
For the most part, cyber attack coverage is FUD
If you aren’t aware FUD stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. For the most part the media blows most of these cyber attack stories way out of proportion. In other words, the media perpetuates FUD. Nothing sells newspapers more than fear.
If companies do their updates and protect their data with backups, cyber attacks are hardly ever as bad as the media makes them out to be. The Apple and Facebook hacks for instance, were the result of employees of the two companies visiting a site with malicious code on it. The code took advantage of a known flaw in Java, and some employee’s computers were infected. No consumer data was affected in either case, but the media went crazy with headlines like “Apple admits to being hacked!!!!!!!!!!” or “Facebook’s data put in jeopardy by hackers!!!!!!!!!!!” Neither one of those headlines is actually helpful nor informative on what actually happened.
The problem is that, like in the old newspaper days, websites have to get clicks in order to make money. So they come up with sensationalist headlines to get people to view their content. If you read a headline about Apple’s data being hacked, you would probably click on it to find out if your data was compromised. What these headlines fail to do is tell the truth. A proper headline for this hack would be “Apple suffers from malware attack, no data lost”. This of course wouldn’t get the attention that a more sensationalistic headline would.
There are problems, however
Just because the media blows these minor hacks out of proportion, doesn’t mean cyber attacks aren’t something we shouldn’t worry about. The United States does need to be on guard for a terrorist or foreign cyber attack. This will be the next type of warfare, and it could actually result in an actual war. Countries, like China, are always trying to gain intelligence on the US, just as the US is always trying to get information on other countries.
Cyber attacks are more dangerous to the entire country than they ever will be to individuals. China doesn’t care about getting US customer information or Facebook data, they want trade secrets and information on their own citizens.
What the average customer has to worry about is the average everyday hacker who is actually trying to steal their data. Whether the hackers are trying to do this by hacking a company or by installing malicious code on users’ computers, they actually want credit card info and other identifying data. Customers need to be on guard for this sort of thing by making sure their computers are up to date, and by turning off Java and Flash when they aren’t absolutely needed.