In US presidential debates, Donald Trump famously used the term ‘The Cyber’ to describe Cyber Security; or perhaps Cyber Warfare, or perhaps the Internet. Who knows? It’s not clear if he does.
Cognisant of the fact he now has plenty of people in his administration who have a better understanding of ‘the cyber’ can we stop worrying? We’d argue not. Whilst the US administration and others are fully aware of the threats of Cyber Hacking, the implications to Nations States and to businesses of poor Cyber Security, and in general how terrorist organisations around the world are using the Internet for propaganda, the fact that ‘cyber anything’ is still hiding, misunderstood in the shadows is the problem.
Regardless of what Trump does or does not know about Cyber Security, Cyber Warfare, or using computers - it is the hacker stereotype held by all of us that is the problem.
By painting the picture of hackers as lone actors / disgruntled individuals (with health issues) “It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?” Trump, like many others is reinforcing our false sense of security by helping us think the threat is benign / oddball / dumb. And he is not alone, anyone with even the faintest interest in Cyber Security, even simply for best practice in business, will have been bombarded by the image of the hooded hacker in a darkened room. He (it is always a he) is pale and gloomy looking, looks like he needs sleep and rarely sees daylight. He is young, talented, but antisocial, out of step with ‘the rest of us’. The implication here being that us ‘normal people’ can rest easy as he’s not really so much of a threat. The public and the media both like stereotypes, and whilst spotty youths are the face of cyber crime we may feel we can rest well at night.
But us ‘normal’ people really need to stop telling ourselves this story. Yes there are some lone hackers who will learn to hack for political motivation or for (relatively small) financial gain, but they’re not the serious threat. It is far more likely any hack that generates much income or disruption has been funded by organised crime, and is entirely targeted. People would do well not to think of successful hacking attempts of businesses, or household name retailers for example as having been carried out by spotty misunderstood youths. The risks and rewards of corporate hacking (e.g. stealing, selling or holding to ransom - large amounts of data) dictate it is usually a motivated, well planned and ’organised’ activity.
Claims of state sponsored hacking by the Russians at the time of the US elections took organised cyber crime a level higher in the minds of the public - to state sponsored cyber warfare. Surely cyber criminals capable of this are not lone hackers in darkened rooms. So why would anyone running for office play so dumb about ‘the cyber’?
Whilst cyber warfare can carry on very much in the shadows, is there a chance politicians want us to keep thinking of anything ‘cyber’ only ever so slightly threatening? As something that is ‘only a small problem’? Are we being systematically encouraged to imagine cyber threats as as just a bit of antisocial behaviour form the local hooded youths.
Hopefully this fascination with the hacker aesthetic is just a phase. They’ll grow out of it!