Ethical hacking

The dark but lucrative world of hacking

Maybe you should encourage your kids to become hackers. When you open Twitter handles and Linkedin profiles, it’s not unlikely that you’ll find people listing hacking as a skill.

Parents used to tell their kids to become doctors, lawyers and accountants. Later, they advised them to learn about computers. These kids grew up to become hardware specialists and then software specialists. That was related to the third industrial revolution.

Yet in the past 10 to twelve years, we have seen ourselves thrown into the fourth industrial revolution, one in which technology affects our lives through social media and augmented reality.

We share more and more of our personal information with more people, companies and institutions every day and we do it willingly and are often blasé about it. This has prompted more people to steal this information through hacking

Hacking background

Since the advent of personal computers in the 1980s hackers have become prolific, initially in first world countries which had an advanced infrastructure. There were numerous cases in the US but as computer technology has permeated the world, hackers have followed suit. 

A hacking group called MOD, Masters of Deception, in the 1980s allegedly stole passwords and technical data from Nynex, and other telephone companies as well as several big credit agencies and two major universities.

The damage caused was extensive and one company, Southwestern Bell said it suffered losses of $370,000 alone. These days the damages, though not always publically announced, can run into a few millions.

READ MORE about the Online Threats hackers use here

This has paved the way for a special information technology (IT) vocation. A security hacker is someone who explores methods for breaching defences and exploiting weaknesses in a computer system and networks. They break into systems they aren’t authorised to, and tend to break seamlessly into email and banking systems.

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Hacking as a career

Ben Wilson works as an ethical hacker. He has more than ten years of experience and worked in London where he received on-the-job training. He now works remotely in South Africa servicing UK clients.

“I test websites for clients. I look for vulnerabilities in the systems. I have done a lot of work for banks lately but my work is across industries.” 

“Energy companies are using my services more and more,” he says.

Wilson says he worked in a permanent position for six years. Right now he contracts for five clients regularly.

Ethical hackers are the knights who test how permeable these systems are.

“The majority of my work is for British clients. The UK pound is strong and I like to earn pounds. I’d say the best computer security consultants in the world are in the UK. The US is strong too but the UK consultants are sophisticated and the best.”

Vulnerabilities

The most common way in which people hack information is through email contacts; especially personal Gmail accounts.

People think that their information is safe because it sits with one of the largest companies in the world. But this is exactly why it isn’t safe.

Gmail accounts are regularly hacked and if you want to protect especially valuable information you should either upgrade it to the business/enterprise level, use a different email service, or perhaps the one connected to your employer. 

Nowadays companies use services to protect themselves against hacks and unauthorised access. These monthly or annual service providers might employ ethical hackers to check the companies’ systems.

Hacking, however, isn’t just something that happens to big companies or in blockbuster movies. Here are some reality checks:

  • All websites are under threat;
  • So are applications (Apps) on your phone;
  • People can also programme artificial intelligence (AI) to hack into systems. This has become a big concern and theme for security experts.

Ways to proactively prevent a hack 

Fortunately, there are several ways of protecting yourself and your information from hacking; starting with your emails. Be wary of “phishing” emails asking you to update your information, especially for bogus databases which you have never heard of.

In addition:

Use a spam filter.

Avoid opening attachments from senders whom you don’t know.

Update your passwords regularly.

It helps to have authentication methods, such as a smartphone linked and email linked authentication (2FA) or security keys like Yubico.

Don’t click on any ad – period!

Back up your files regularly – it’s always good idea.

Don’t allow ransomware bullies to bully you.

  • If you get sent communication saying that people have your files and want money or they’ll release the files; ignore them.
  • They can’t threaten you forever and might eventually move onto another target especially if your information loses its value over time.

Anti-hacking software

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As a business, use tools like those from cybersecurity experts Acunetix. More than 4 000 companies protect their web applications form vulnerabilities using its powerful web scanner.

Its penetration testing software prevents potential attacks by identifying holes in your websites’ coding. This is where hackers usually plant their complex code which allows them to extract data such as contact details, credit card details and in worse cases, company-sensitive data like patents and blueprints.

Naturally, they also scan networks to find gateway loopholes that could lead to crashes and downtime-related losses. A bank’s website going down for a few hours can cost it several thousands or even millions in lost revenue.

Despite having firewalls, VPNs and other Internet security systems in place, your websites and Apps being developed are still vulnerable to cyber-attacks or a hack.

Some complex hacks include: SQL Injections, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and what is known as Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF).

The most commonly known and used however, is a DDoS attack. Basically it works like like a traffic jam clogging up a highway, preventing regular traffic from arriving at its desired destination. Incidently, only a few days ago, Amazon was hit by a DDoS Attack.

So, how would you know or find out if you are vulnerable?  By conducting regular scan on your websites and apps to see where vulnerabilities lie.

Avoiding a hack requires common sense

Be aware and don’t fall into scams. It’s unlikely you’ve won 120-million Euro in a lottery. And you should know by now that are not the descendant of a king!

If someone says they have a sex-tape with you in it and they want your salary, unless you know you made a sex tape, they’re probably lying.

Unless of course, a scorned lover of yours tricked you – but you can’t blame technology or a hacker for that.

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The Online Threats of 2019

How you can stop them from happening.

Like a biological virus mutates – as technology advances, so does the complexity of phishing and identity theft schemes. With major services adopting cloud technologies and storing private data online, anyone is vulnerable to hacking.

To make matters worse, hackers continue to come up with some pretty creative ways to profit from stolen information.

Without wasting time, these are the things you should already be doing to avoid being exposed to hackers in the first place:

In order to keep these cybercriminals out of your lives and computers, let’s take a look at some of the actual schemes to watch out for in 2019.

Hacking

We all know what hacking is by now – the term has almost become synonymous with internet security. So a question is: do you love watching movies on Netflix or jamming out to your summer playlist on Spotify? If the answer is yes, then you’re at a pretty high risk of getting hacked.

DynaRisk, a UK cybersecurity firm, recently found that cybercriminals most commonly target these brands, along with adult-oriented sites (you know what we mean) and then, online gaming services.

Identity Theft

A few weeks ago, authorities caught a New York-based gang who had used identity theft to steal over $19 million worth of iPhones. Quartz reported that this operation ran for seven years.

So-called “Top Dogs,” the ring leaders, would organize lower level members of their organization to steal identities and create clone credit and identity cards. Then, affiliates fanned across the nation, signing up for mobile phone plans to acquire iPhones, which were later sold for a profit by the Top Dogs.

Because phone payment plans take the shape of nominal fees over the course of several years, victims often wouldn’t notice the fraud until it was too late. Learn how another scheme dubbed sim port attack works in the diagram below:

Ransomware

Hacking can happen to anyone – including our favorite bands. In early June, a hacker managed to steal the minidisk archive of Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead. This included previously unreleased demos and audio material from around the time of “OK Computer,” the band’s 1997 worldwide hit album. The hacker then demanded $150,000 on the threat of releasing it.

Holding files for ransom is so common nowadays that it even has its own name: “Ransomware.” Either pay over the ransom or lose your files—or, even worse, have them released onto the unforgiving Internet.

In response, Radiohead released all 18 hours of material on Bandcamp themselves, winning against these ransom hackers.

Most security experts recommend the same route as Radiohead—never pay the ransom, because there’s no guarantee you’ll recover files or prevent their release.

Sextortion

If you think ransomware is bad, there’s an entire subgroup of it aimed to profit off sexual shame. Cheekily named “Sextortion,” some hackers creatively upgraded the classic email phishing scam to scare victims into handing over Bitcoin.

According to Fortune, hackers have already racked up over $900,000 with sextortion. In these phishing emails, the sender claims to have spied on you while you watched porn—and has webcam footage of the salacious deeds. The message then demands a Bitcoin ransom, or else face the social and professional consequences of this lewd video getting sent to all your contacts.

To make the threat even more believable, the sender references a previous password tied to the user’s email account. According to Krebson Security, a sextortion phishing message might look a little like what’s written in the sidebox.

In rare cases, the threats are real—and hackers get their hands on some sexually explicit photos. Recently, American actress Bella Thorne fell victim to sextortion. Last Saturday, she took a similar, albeit more risqué, route as Radiohead, opting to release her nude photographs on Twitter in order to take the power away from her hacker.

Last thoughts..

So, what’s the best way to avoid your personal, or, business from costing thousands in virtual currency? Since most of these emails are fake, you can just avoid them with a spam filter. And you should probably buy a webcam cover…just to be safe. When it comes to general browsing- we suggest using a VPN.

Read more about VPNs here

There are now more secure anti-hacking tools that use the Blockchain and offer great protection especially against identity theft. Have a look at our feature on Tokenisation.

Most online services now like mobile banks, offer App-based 2-factor authentication. This should now be regarded as the minimum security for ANY online account or App.

To avoid hacking or phishing scams in general, optimizing your cybersecurity and using online common sense will save you loads of time, trouble and money.

Cybersecurity by Acunetix

Open Banking – too exposed?

As a human race, we are constantly striving for easier ways of doing things: simpler, faster and more practical. Thanks to better tech, you can now interact with people globally and instantly with the click of a few buttons.

Likewise, you can also physically move quickly due to advances in transportation technology. When it comes to the age-old practice banking – the same is now happening.

Provided you have the necessities, a passport, residential address and a mobile phone, you can now open a bank account within minutes. This is brought about by a Fintech offering better known as Open Banking.

Open banking is the use of open APIs that enable third-party developers to build applications and services around the financial institution.

Wikipedia

It is ultimately about giving you a better, secure and flawless service experience with the opportunity to gain access to excellent financial products.

Online security expert and Chairwoman of Zortrex, Susan Brown reflects on the advent of the new offering:

“Just over a year ago when Open Banking came into the limelight for the Fintech world. CMA9 (the nine largest banks within the UK), were effectively mandated to make their banking platform accessible for third party companies.”

A comprehensive global report commissioned by Accenture emphatically highlighted growth and talking points about the emerging industry in 2017.

N26 Bank
N26 Bank

This is all wonderful, innovative, and promotes transparency within the financial services market – but there is only one drawback Brown cites:

“Consumers really do not know what Open Banking means, there has been a lot published about the benefits that is to be had from Open Banking. At the same time consumers have become very aware of the negative aspects around sharing their data.”

Online scourge of hacks & breaches

Daily, you hear more and more about hacks, and data compromises. With the UK’s Lloyds Bank breach last year; the trust by its consumers to share their financial and personal information, some would say, is completely gone.

In addition, you go onto a site look review products and before you know it, you are bombarded with adverts on the products that you have been looking at elsewhere. This has led some consumers to abandon shopping carts and refrain from using online retailers.

If not adequately protected, the newly established Fintech system might suffer a similar data breaches.

Visa and Mastercard for one, are among the established firms threatened by Open (and Mobile) Banking. And so, they should be according to Brown.

“As consumers knowledge grows about their data and the security around their financial data has not been secure as shown with the Marriott hack.”

Naturally, these new systems pose a huge threat for banks as they become the digital gateway channel connection to the financial sector. This eliminates the direct relationship between consumers and banks.

This is not a bad thing as banks are overwhelmed and cannot always keep in touch with every client.

Added layer of protection

The solution for failing global acceptance would be for a new Fintech company to gain the trust of its new customers. They would naturally also be able to chip away at the market share of other expensive financial institutions.

What you as a consumer know and want is privacy and security. Currently, only banks can make this happen – but at a high cost.

With a new digital tokenisation system like Zortrex vault, you can concurrently let your consumers reap the awards on their transactions.

They can as a result, gain redeemable tokens for patronising your services. This can occur while both you and your partners offer them products globally.

“Don’t be a gateway for the challenger banks be in control of your omni channel for your consumers,” Brown advises

Read more about Zortrex’s solution to privacy here.

This blogpost contains excerpts from Susan Brown about Open Banking initially published on her LinkedIn page.  




Get a vault for your data!

It’s not often that we readily endorse a product or company. However, when the nature of work they engage in is considered ground-breaking and has a positive impact on our lives – it most certainly warrants a mention.

The rationale for considering such tech-driven projects as highly significant is neither due to ‘gut feeling’. Nor that it is simply fascinating and therefore must be an excellent product. This project actually has a value proposition for you!

We are indeed well into the information age and while we have written extensively about data, its importance to marketers and its fragility when used and abused by unscrupulous third-parties for their financial gain.

The issue of data security is however, quite a serious issue. You just need to pay attention to the news to become even more aware.

 

Data breach incidents

In Europe, the where security is supposedly more advanced, we have seen the likes of renowned airline British Airways, being hacked. Several hundreds of thousands of customers’ personal data compromised.

These were followed by hacks on other major airlines such as Cathay Pacific.  Aside from airlines, other business outfits have suffered a similar fate.

The perpetrators are getting a lot more brazen and very recently, a cable car, used as public transport in Moscow was hacked, leaving vulnerable passengers terrified and stuck high up in the air. And this probably to the amusement of the pranksters (hackers).  

Can you imagine the chaos and commotion that would be caused if their control systems of driverless cars were to be hacked? 

The digital intrusions get even more sophisticated.

This time, affecting the very wealthy:  private yachts are now being hacked and taken into the pirate waters, all via uniquely coded signals, reading data from their antennas!

 

Data security 

On the issue of data security, you often hear about extra protection but not just anti-virus and anti-phishing software. The more secure and heavily encrypted Blockchain technology is, however, making waves in the digital sphere.

It is mainly for the escalation of its once shining star by-product designed for discreet transacting – the Bitcoin.

Blockchain technology has also triggered several other technologies based on its digital cryptology technology to ensure that your information is kept safe from prying eyes while stored, used or transferred online.

Blockchain products such as cryptocurrencies, however, are not completely safe from hackers!

 

A solution

Zortrex400x400The company we chose to highlight uses a unique vault system and is called Zortrex. It has adopted one of such Blockchain technologies dubbed tokenization. It will be using it to ensure that highly sensitive data online is kept safe.

“Our tokenised solution would have protected their customers’ personal identification information (PII) details. Instead the hackers ran off with the date of birth; passport numbers; financial data etc,” says Susan Brown, Chairperson of Zortrex – relating to the British Airways incident.

 

Tokenization is the process of converting rights to real-world assets into a digital token on a blockchain.

Brown’s background in data privacy systems as well as her devoted passion for the protection of PII, financial and healthcare data led her to start up and chair Zortrex. 

 

The law

“Companies have disrespected your data for over 25 years, and if left unattended, there will be nothing left to protect,” Browns says.

Thanks to new laws like the European GDPR law which is now imposing the data protection, data breaches and abuse of customer data is now met with hefty financial penalties.

Companies now think twice about consent and how to use and share your data digitally. But is it enough? The simple answer is no.  

The authorities just do not have the resources to investigate every complaint nor to actively enforce all data breaches – yet.

We have ingeniously invented systems that automatically align with financial messaging, payments and securing information. All of which require data. 

“However, we should and need to go a step further to secure all the PII details with tokenisation so that in the event of a hack, the cookies and trackers will only be following a ‘useless’ token as there is no real identification on it,” Brown explains.

Zortrex would naturally like to tokenise all healthcare data so that vulnerable people living outside of major cities can also feel assured that their privacy is protected.

In a previous blog, we wrote about the new Internet of things (IoT). All those devices being built for it. They would all need  their IP addresses and the serial numbers tokenised for instance.

 

Using Blockchain

The application of the all-powerful blockchain is not limited to use in the financial sector and will be applied via the supply chain to all industries that deal with data – especially the most sensitive ones.

An angel investor or any investor for that matter looking to get onto the next best thing since Amazon would therefore be unwise to pass up the opportunity to back the Zortrex venture given its scope.

Furthermore, regulations are currently being implemented primarily in the pharmaceutical sector.

A tokenised supply chain such as what Zortrex offers would be ideal for this new law which is planned to be implemented by 2023.  A judiciary blockchain, for instance, would enable the police to “talk” to the prison service,  who in turn, will communicate with the legal sector or public health institutions (NHS).

Forensic evidence would in such instances be tokenised and kept secure (away from tampering) during legal hearings.  In another practical scenario, Smart Contracts (which are touted to replace lawyers) can spark off legal aid assistance.

You court cases will be heard quicker and be more efficient.  Protection registers can also be protected with tokenisation rendering it more secure.

Blockchain technology offers quality assurance making sure that no shortcuts are taken. The smart contracts specifically, trigger any possible malfeasance.

This will enable the monitoring and tracking of any data sharing to third parties once it is tokenised. The third party apps would only gain access to the data once the trigger has been activated.

Like other pioneers and visionaries, Brown’s futuristic hope that every child being born will have their name, date of birth, blood type data being tokenised, might seem farfetched. However, given the nature and rise of data breaches it is evidently necessary.

Zortrex wants to use their technology to put the hackers out of business! 

Tokenisation cannot be mathematically reversed and thus it will least it will stop the hackers for a while.

Scalability

For such high ambitions, the creators of Zortrex’s software have adequately ensured that the technology used is fully scalable. One stumbling block many Blockchain projects now face is what is referred to as scalability – which in tech terms, is the ability of a network or software to grow and manage increased demand.

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Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum specifically – which is used to build a lot of Distributed Applications, however, have massive scalability issues.

The growth in demand for DApps is crippling those systems. They need to investigate the incorporation of alternative technologies, upgrade or split their platforms to cope with such high demand.

Someone must take the first step in securing this data forever. You should be able to purchase what you want without being harassed by trackers and cookies.

The need for tokenisation is endless and further, down the line, celebrities and government official’s PII can be secured by it to protect them from damaging schemes, ‘bad press’ and scandals.

In a previous blog, we “prophesized” that data is the new commodity – like gold or oil. However, the actual value with that data will lie in its privacy, the ability to store it securely and unlock it only with legal permission by its rightful owner.