Trojan horses

According to historical accounts, the Greeks implemented a unique strategy to finally conquer the independent city of Troy. After unsuccessfully laying siege to the city for a decade, with the goal of rescuing Helen (the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, who had been kidnapped by Paris), the Greeks built a giant wooden horse and hid a select force of men inside it. The rest of the Greek army sailed away, leading the Trojans to believe that the war was won. The Trojans brought what they believed to be a victory trophy inside the walled city. The Greek army returned in the middle of the night, and the soldiers hidden inside the horse opened the doors to the city, destroying it (in 1180 BCE).

In a computer Trojan horse attack, the user receives an email, clicks on a fake link, and their data is rendered inaccessible. The information is held for ransom, usually an amount to be paid in cryptocurrencies to make tracing difficult. In 2016 alone, over 350 million new types of malware (programs with objectives that are harmful to users) were detected, and — even worse — an effective ransomware capable of holding the victim’s data hostage could be purchased for around $120 on the dark web (which uses the Internet infrastructure but requires a specific set of tools to be accessed).

But the threat gets even more serious. In May 2017, the world learned of the ransomware WannaCry, which rapidly propagated, exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that had been detected and published a few months prior by another group of hackers. Microsoft provided the necessary patches before WannaCry was unleashed, but many companies that hadn’t made the updates or that were using versions of the operating system that were no longer being supported were infected. A few days later, the definitive solution to the attack (which had originated in North Korea) was provided — but not before more than 200,000 computers in approximately 150 countries were infected. The sectors impacted included governments, infrastructure (water, power, sewage, gas, rail, airports, highways, and roads), banks, telecom service providers, car manufacturers, and hospitals.

Simply stated, our cities are vulnerable to attacks in a connected society that is overseen by artificial systems. Such attacks may be politically motivated or simply personal, such as the stunt pulled by Vitek Boden. Disgruntled over not having been hired for a municipal job in Queensland, Australia, Boden hacked the utility company’s system in 2000 and caused 800,000 liters (211,000 US gallons) of sewage to be discharged into parks and rivers of Maroochy Shire, around 100 km (60 mi) from Brisbane.

Cyberterrorism is considered a real threat by governments around the world, and many believe that future wars will be fought in this arena. With billions of people and objects connected through the IoT, it is imperative that governments, businesses, and individuals are aware of these threats, and that they are trained to seek out the necessary protection. The cybersecurity industry will be our next topic. See you then.

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Guy Perelmuter

Guy Perelmuter

Founder at GRIDS Capital, Award-winning author of “Present Future: Business, Science, and the Deep Tech Revolution”, Twitter @guyperelmuter