What you need to know about cyberspace to live well: "the cyber accident"

(To Alessandro Rugolo)

It often happens that friends or simple acquaintances ask me questions about the cyber world. Often these are questions aimed at clarifying some particular aspect of the fifth domain, other times they are questions that highlight the desire to understand something more than a world that is now necessary to know.
The first category includes for example: "Alessandro, what is an APT1?" or "What do you think of the security of such a messaging system?" or even "which encryption algorithm is better performing?", all questions whose answer, although apparently simple, is not at all and which requires a deep knowledge of the topics but above all the ability to explain in an elementary way topics that are not easy.

To the second category belong some basic questions like "But can you know what cyberspace is?", or "Can you show me a cyber course for beginners?" or even more simply "Can you explain something about cyber?".

These seemingly simple questions are so general that I often find myself caught up in too long explanations and not at all within the reach of those in front of me. Then I realize that what seems obvious to me, for most people I normally interact with, is not at all!

Reflecting on what I thought that perhaps it would be appropriate to try to write some basic articles to be used as a lesson, short articles that deal with complex topics aimed at the curious but absolutely inexperienced reader or, perhaps, the one eager to learn a minimum of notions that they need for his daily work.
In my opinion, this type of audience is very numerous but unwilling to read long technical or simply sensationalistic articles, for which it is difficult to find pleasure or interest in reading an article on the cyber world.

I decided to start writing some short didactic articles for their use and consumption, this is the first and speaking of "cyber accident" I will try to answer clearly, concisely and without any technicality (which in some cases also means with a certain level of simplification and inaccuracy that I hope will be forgiven me!) to the questions:

  • What is a cyber incident?
  • Who can be affected by a cyber accident?
  • Do these things also happen in Italy?
  • Why should this happen to me?
  • Am I safe if I have a good antivirus installed?

Of course, to fully understand what we are talking about I should explain what the cyberspace, but I will not do it, I will take it for granted in the sense that slowly the reader will be led to understand what is the cyber-space without getting lost in definitions that leave the time they find also because they are not consolidated.

Everyone is interested in understanding what a cyber incident is, why all they can suffer it, exactly in the same way in which all motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are interested in knowing what a road accident is without having to know the entire road network or the composition of the draining asphalt or even the functioning of the traffic light network of the own city.

Let's say immediately that a cyber incident is something that can happen to all those who use a technologically advanced tool without taking some minimum precautions for their own safety, and when I speak of a technologically advanced instrument I speak of smartphone, of SmartWatch, of smart tv (tv connected to the internet) o any tool, object, robot, prosthesis, vehicle or "thing" capable of receiving data from the outside, of processing it, of sending it in turn and of performing any action. A good approximation of this world is given by the Internet.

But let's start from the beginning, a cyber accident can be the blocking of the mobile phone due to a virus, the theft of personal data from a social network, the identity theft occurred on Facebook, the slowdown of the PC with which I play in the evening to relax after a day's work, the car accident caused by a problem with the engine control unit, the theft of confidential information or patents, the inefficiency of a production control system of a shoe factory, the blockage company invoice management software or malfunction of the air conditioning system. As you can see, there is a bit of everything because technology is now used in all fields.

The answer to the second question, if you understand the concept, is very simple: anyone can be interested in a cyber incident. Note well, I said "anyone", I didn't say "who uses technological tools". In fact, if once those who did not use technology (information technology in particular) could save themselves, since society and governments began to render services to citizens through increasingly complex and interdependent systems, all citizens can suffer damage from a cyber accident. An example? An old man who goes to the post office to collect his pension could return home empty-handed because the systems are blocked (by a ransomware for example. Later we will see what it is).

But you always think positive, so these things don't happen to me and don't happen in Italy. But no, these things happen to everyone and can also happen in Italy.

Many people think - wrongly - that they have nothing that could affect a hacker for whom "I am safe". Unfortunately, this way of thinking leads to very serious mistakes, so my advice is: always be suspicious ... do not take anything for granted and never trust who is on the other side of a computer, a telephone line or an unsolicited service, as a child you didn't trust who offered you a candy !!!
In many cases I, like anyone of you, am nothing more than an unconscious victim of things much bigger than me. For example my computer (or mine smartphone) could be employed without my knowledge by a hacker who is waging an attack on an organization located on the other side of the world. I probably wouldn't even realize it if it wasn't that in the last few days my computer has become much slower than normal ... will I get a virus? The question arises. And yet, last month I installed an excellent antivirus that suggested a dear friend who knows about it, and it's also free!
I don't hide the fact that I also often install free, or paid, antivirus, but I know what I am encountering. Anything apparently unpaid still costs us something without our realizing it. Often this "something" is nothing more than a piece of "information about our behavior".

So what do we do, no antivirus?

To this question I always answer that antivirus is useful ... but it is not a solution if we have something to defend and we are aware of it. To be effective, even in a company, the antivirus must be only part of the security.

For today I will stop here.

Some might think that I said trivialities, obvious things. I answer in advance: yes, I said obvious things, for those who know them, but not for everyone!
Often, however, saying trivia, such as "never accepting candy from strangers", can save your life so maybe it's trivia to tell you!

In any case, if some readers of this new column are not afraid to ask trivial questions to satisfy their curiosity, then leave a comment, I will answer you in the next article, or at least I will try to answer you.
I forgot. Don't worry, there are never stupid questions, sometimes only stupid answers.

To contact the cyber editors of Difesa Online: cyber@difesaonline.it

1 An APT is an especially dangerous form of attack, the acronym means Advanced Persistent Threat. An APT is usually connected to a group that acts on behalf of a powerful organization, often a state. But we'll talk more about it later ...

Photo: US Air Force