Cyber Crime, Cyber Terrorism, and Cyber War: these words conjure images of computer wizards typing away on their computers, hacking into vital national or corporate networks. Most of us don't worry about these activities. But each of these activities are threats to us, affecting our online and our offline lives.
Crime has always existed, and probably always will. Internet crime may be new, but "established" crimes such as money laundering, fraud, theft, and assault use the Internet as a vehicle for success. Leaving a credit card receipt with the card's full number in a trash can is equivalent to typing your credit card number on an insecure Internet site. Governments are amending laws to include Internet crimes and protect consumers, but being cautious both online and offline is the key to not being victimized.
Terrorism is also as real online as it is offline, and it affects all of us, regardless of whether we use the Internet. But more and more of us are going online. We check our mail and stay in touch with friends, we conduct business and check our bank balances, and some of us even negotiate house and car purchases online. In fact, even if you don't go online, your credit card companies, banks, utility companies, are probably capable of interacting with you, and they'll be there, whenever you decide to get on the Internet. Personal information about YOU may be available online to the public, regardless of whether you have a computer. Companies and governments that are Internet dependent have myriad's of information available online. Vital operations are conducted over the Internet as the medium of choice. Anything we do as a society online is available to hackers anywhere in the world. And the Internet has no borders or walls. We are, in essence, vulnerable to attack online.
2001 saw some dangerous, effective viruses such as CodeRed, Sircam, Badtrans, Kak, and Goner. But Nimda was the worst of all. Discovered on September 18th, a week after the events of September 11th, Nimda had no apparent political motive, but it couldn't have been more opportunistic. Perhaps we are lucky that Nimda came a week after the 11th, when people were sensitive to potential threats. As terrible as Nimda was, it was a single act, and not associated with the real-world terrorist acts. But Nimda raised our awareness: Is the Internet being used to coordinate terrorist activities? Is it only a matter of time before terrorists coordinate Internet threats with "real-world" threats?
It's clear that we need to stay aware of threats both online and offline. We have basic security for our home, and we need some basic security for our home PCs. We need to have personal firewalls and anti-virus services, and we need to think about our privacy. As we enter 2002 in the wake of world events in 2001, we are more at risk online than ever before. Hackers are sophisticated and won't stop at targeting home users as well as corporations and the government. Putting Cyber in front of a threat doesn't make it something new. On the contrary, it makes us vulnerable to old crimes in a new medium. And just like you need locks on your doors, caller ID, and other services to insure your security in the real world, you also need a lock and some hacker protection for your home computer.