According to Jacobs (2011), information security is the practice dealing with the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information systems. If an information system is accessed for in any unauthorized, unwanted, unwarranted and malevolent intention, then the security of information in that system is compromised. Information security is a general term that refers to the confidentiality, integrity and availability (CIA) of information systems whether they take an electronic or physical form. The two major aspects of information security include IT security and information assurance. IT security is responsible for keeping IT assets safe from malicious attacks and any unauthorized attempts to access information.
On the other hand, information assurance ensures that even when attacks occur, the data in information systems can be recovered. Information security threats occur when there a possibility of taking advantage of vulnerability in an information system. For a security breach to occur there must be vulnerability (susceptibility), access to the vulnerability and actual execution of an attack. There are several threats that face information systems today. Since the internet revolution, the amount of personal and business data stored in information systems has greatly increased. A corresponding increase in threats has also been experienced as criminals attempt to breach information systems for their gain. The purpose of this paper is to discuss modern information security threats. An insightful summary of at least ten threats will be given to show the several threats that exist today.
In IT security, a threat refers to possible danger that exploits vulnerabilities in an information system intentionally or unintentionally. Chou (2011) noted that in example of an intentional threat, a hacker may compromise a computer system and delete or modify files. In an unintentional threat, a computer may malfunction and lead to equipment or networks malfunction. In this section we shall look at the major threats to information security today.
For the past 10 years, computer viruses have been the most common and popular types of information security threats. A virus may contain malicious code that is aimed at breaching information security in a several ways. Vacca (2012) noted that a virus may contain malicious code that deletes files, modifies files, alters computer operation or destroys your operating system. Computer viruses may differ in their design, deployment and malicious action. Some viruses are spread via email, disks, websites and chat technologies.
One key characteristic of a virus is the ability of the code to replicate and execute itself. Viruses are designed to self-replicate within host computer and execute once it is copied into the computer. Therefore, deleting the virus may not help the computer since the malicious code can replicate itself. Kissel (2011) noted that another characteristic of a virus is that it alters files in a computer with neither the knowledge nor the permission of the owner. They are designed to access information systems silently and cause damage without detection. However, the installation of a powerful antivirus can protect information systems from virus attacks since such programs are designed to locate and delete viruses.
The popularity of viruses is reducing due to the evolution of stronger programs or code called malware. Malware (Malicious Software) is used to gain illegal access to information systems, collect critical information and hamper computer operations. The evolution of malware shows a move from simple computer programs or pieces of code used for simpler functions such as revenge attacks, annoyance and disruption to more sophisticated and well-orchestrated attacks using specialized software implemented through scripts, code or active content.
Malware may include ransomware, dialers, adware and rootkits. Attackers use malware to conduct coordinated attacks which can sometimes be conducted for financial gain. For example, ransomware can lock information systems and demand ransom to unlock the affected systems on payment of requested sums. In addition, malware can be used to disrupt the operations of financial institutions to cause great loss and panic.
Kees & Andre (2010) noted that the internet revolution has led to an internet marketing phenomenon that is characterized by millions of adverts on the internet. Developers usually use search engine optimization tools to enhance the visibility of these adverts in many websites. Within such technologies, programs, scripts and malicious code that can record consumer behavior can be embedded to increase the effectiveness of online advertising. The advertising companies may track consumer behavior so that they can decide the best adverts to send to such customers.
In addition, the adware can download code into your computer that records your activity and sends information to an advertiser’s server. Such programs can have access to your computer microphone and camera which can be used for malicious activities. Even though most adware does not contain viruses, it can use computer resources to slow down your internet connection while displaying the adverts. In extreme cases, these advertising Trojans can be used for malicious purposes if they are deployed to copy your files, modify documents and turn on recording devices such as the computer camera or audio device to record your activities.
Vacca (2012) noted that even though these programs can hamper the operation of your device, the main concern is privacy. The adware and advertising Trojans record every activity of the user and send it to a management center where a user profile is built to help send targeted adverts to your web searches and websites accessed on your device.
Social engineering involves tricking computer users to reveal their private information which can be used for illegal access to a system. Today, vast amounts of personal data are shared on online platforms since people have become confident with online platforms as secure repositories for their information. For example, many people share their information in social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Here, individuals have come to accept these websites as safe platforms where they can share information. When passwords, email addresses and PINs are shared by trusting users to unknown people, there is a risk that they can be used for illegal access. Here, several techniques can trick users into sharing their personal information. Sometimes, a user is presented with an application log-in where email address and password is required. Such websites can save your log-in credentials.
Social engineering has also been used in the business circles to trick trusting employees to share confidential information. A typical social engineering attack can be perpetrated in an attacker gains illegal access to a manager’s email account and uses that account to ask trusting employees to share critical information. Here, the attackers prey on the trust that employees have for their seniors to ensure that they share information. Social engineering attacks have been on the rise in the recent past; it is expected that the rising use of social medial platforms and electronic communication in business circles will lead to an increase in threats through social engineering.
Phishing attacks involve masquerading as a trustworthy person or business partner to the victim of the attack. Vacca (2012) noted that phishers may attempt to steal personal and financial information using instant messages and emails. In a specific phishing attack called “the viral” website, a website is used to entice users to visit platforms that contain Trojans and malware. Some of this websites may look like some common websites; they may even have a similar URL as the website being imitated.
When users visit such websites, they unknowingly download viruses that can lay ground for an attack by providing the attacker information that is useful when attacking your computer. Kees & Andre (2010) noted that other cases of phishing attacks using the “viral” website may involve an imitation of a popular website where users are prompted to enter their authentication details into the fake website. Once entered, your authentication details are logged and used to access your account in the popular website.
Spyware is a serious information security threat due to the privacy issues that arise from the use of spyware to illegally monitor and eavesdrop. Vacca (2012) noted that spyware is any computer program that can monitor your online activities or install software on your local computer to capture and record personal information. Today, there exists software that to monitor online activity. For example, software can monitor your online searches, favorite websites and social media activity.
The information collected by spyware on your online activity can create a profile depending on the intention of the attackers. In other extreme cases of information security, spyware can be used to install programs that activate audio and video devices on your computer to record sound and video. Such programs take control of your laptop camera and audio device and record sound or video which captures your activities. Here, if a person is connected to the internet, spyware can transmit live video and audio that shows your current activities.
Bidgoli (2006) noted that the information security threats associated with SQL injection may not affect users directly. These types of attacks are used to attack websites and access information stored in the database. Attackers use such techniques to compromise enterprise information systems to access sensitive customer data such as bank accounts, PIN and social security numbers.
Therefore, even though this method is not used to directly access a user’s computer, it may be used to steal critical information regarding customers in enterprise information systems. Cavelty (2007) noted that successful compromise of information systems using SQL injected may lead to losses when financial information systems such as banks, mobile money transfer platforms and online payment solution providers are attacked.
This is one of the most recent threats to information security. Kees & Andre (2010) noted that cyber terrorists can use internet based attacks to further their agenda. The cyber terrorists may use attacks for the deliberate or intentional disruption of telecom networks, computer networks and other computer systems set up during major events.
Since modern individuals and organizations are highly reliant on information systems for the completion of activities and tasks, the widespread disruption of information systems by terrorists would cause panic which would serve the interests of terrorist groups. Cyber terrorism is a relatively new type of information security threat; authorities have emphasized on the prevention of such attacks since they would greatly hamper economic activity through the compromise of critical infrastructure.
According to Guardian (2013), cloud computing systems are faced by several information security threats. Since volumes of personal and corporate information are stored in cloud computing platforms for owners, incidents of hacking cloud infrastructure are on the rise. It is estimated that in future, more security incidents in cloud computing will arise. This is because the cloud provides a single repository of information for individuals and businesses.
Such a repository is vulnerable to many types of attacks since many hackers attempting to compromise information assets of different organizations will target the cloud since the data for such organizations is centrally stored. The cloud creates a central target of attacks since information from different sources is stored in one platform.
A key logger is device or computer program that keeps records of all the key strokes that are made on the key board by the user. Key loggers are used in recording important information such as passwords, PINs and other authentication data. The key loggers eavesdrop on the user and sends information to the attacker. The attackers use your information to access your information later since sensitive information such as PIN and passwords have are already in their hands.
According to Kees & Andre (2010), key loggers require advanced devices or programs to record and transmit your key strokes. Sometimes, such devices can be installed on your personal computer in your absence. In addition, the user has no way of telling whether the key strokes being entered are being recorded and transmitted.
A website cookie is a piece of code or script that is stored in a user’s computer by a website. Each time the user accesses the same website; the cookie communicates with the server and updates the user’s activities. Initially, cookies were developed to ensure that websites have memory of information such as the items selected by a user into a shopping cart. However, their use has evolved since they can now be used to carry viruses and record the browsing history of users.
Cookies lead to privacy concerns since they can deploy adware which logs the activities of users. The information collected by cookies may include internet searches, browsing history, shopping lists and favorite websites. If such information is accessed illegally with malevolent intention, the privacy of information systems and individual works stations is compromised.
Information security is concerned with guaranteeing the confidentiality, integrity and availability of information. If information is accessed illegally, then the security of such platforms is deemed to have been compromised. There are several threats to information security today; viruses, SQL injection, cookies, cloud security, adware, spyware, key loggers, social engineering, phishing and cyber terrorism are some of the major information security threats today.
With the increasing use of information systems to complete daily activities at home and at work, the threats to information security may increase as attackers look for different technologies and loopholes that can gain illegal access to information systems. It is therefore advisable for individuals and organizations to remain vigilant ant take all available technological measures to eliminate information security threats.
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