Mendeley Brainstorm: Hacking – How Secure Are We?

Our lives are more networked than ever before; does that make them more vulnerable?
Our lives are more networked than ever before; how vulnerable are we?

Recently, a nuclear power plant was hacked. According to Reuters, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the attack “caused some problems” and the plant had to “take some precautionary measures.”  Given the increased prevalence of internet-enabled applications, how vulnerable are we to cyber-attacks and what can be done to prevent them? We are looking for the most well thought out answer to this question in up to 150 words: use the comment feature below the blog and please feel free to promote your research!  The winner will receive an Amazon gift certificate worth £50 and a bag full of Mendeley items; competition closes November 23.

Hacking – Not Just for PCs Anymore

The arrival of the Internet of Things has meant that our lives are more networked than ever before; the internet isn’t merely on a computer stuck in the corner, it’s connected to our phones (which track our every movement), it’s embedded into our appliances and vehicles, it’s wired up to security cameras and to life support machines.  However, this widespread connectivity also is indicative of a just as widespread vulnerability: our personal data, our public services, and even our cars could be hacked.

New Dangers

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said a nuclear plant had been hacked. While he didn’t fully spell out the risks, he noted that the security breach had “caused some problems” and “some precautionary measures” were required.

And Continuing Vulnerabilities

On October 11, Symantec revealed that hackers had attacked users of the SWIFT financial transfer network.  The goal was to use “malware to hide customers’ own records of Swift messages relating to fraudulent transactions”.

What Can Be Done?

It’s been projected that “$1 trillion will be spent globally on cybersecurity from 2017 to 2021”; but is this expenditure in vain?  Can our data, our banks, and our public services be truly protected? What can be done enhance security?  Tell us!

About Mendeley Brainstorms

Our Brainstorms are challenges so we can engage with you, our users, on the hottest topics in the world of research.  We look for the most in-depth and well thought through responses; the best response as judged by the Mendeley team will earn a prize.

References

Cybersecurity Ventures. (2016). The Cybersecurity Market Report covers the business of cybersecurity, including market sizing and industry forecasts, spending, notable M&A and IPO activity, and more. [online] Available at: http://cybersecurityventures.com/cybersecurity-market-report/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2016].

PEYTON, A. (2016). Symantec reveals more hack attempts on Swift network.  Banking Technology. [online] Available at: http://www.bankingtech.com/606802/symantec-reveals-more-hack-attempts-on-swift-network/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2016].

SHARWOOD, S. (2016). Nuke plant has been hacked, says Atomic Energy Agency director The Register. [online] Available at: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/10/11/nuke_plant_has_been_hacked_says_atomic_energy_agency_director/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2016].

“Back to the Future of Money” David Birch Talks@Mendeley

Where does the money in a £20 note actually exist? It’s the sort of thing you don’t often think about. Unless, of course you’re an expert like David Birch, whose day job is heading a consultancy specializing in secure electronic transactions, and who’s also just published a book called “Identity is the New Money.”

He used that question during his Talk@Mendeley to get the audience thinking about what we understand money to be, and put forward the idea that:

“Technologically, money is a primitive form of memory”

Talks at Mendeley David Birch 2

As the title of the talk suggests, David actually goes back to the past in order to understand the future of money, and what it holds in store for all of us as transactions technology advances.

Paradoxically, he says, we can best understand the Bitcoin phenomenon by studying the stone currency system in the Pacific Island of Yap, where ownership of the valuable, but extremely large and cumbersome carved stones is transferred without the need to physically move them. The entire system is based on accepting the value of the stones and remembering who they belong to at any given time, even if the stone in question happens to be at the bottom of the sea.

The way money works these days is actually quite recent, David explained.

“The birth of modern money dates back only to around August 1971, when Richard Nixon ended the convertibity of the US Dollar, so actually, money as we know it right now is only about 40 years old. It’s not a law of nature.”

Social Anthropologists such as Jack Weatherford agree that the electronic money world looks much more like the Neolithic economy before the invention of money than the market as we have known it for the past few hundred years.

“In a world where everybody is connected to everybody else, what do you actually need the money for? If this was a Neolithic clan, you’d have sets of obligations to each other that you would remember. Money is a marker that allows you to scale that process. But. If you can remember everything, then you might not actually need money at all.”

And that is where technology comes in, making that memory-based system scalable: Old universal currency systems are broken, Birch argues, and they reduce people to having to engage in what he calls “security theatre”.

He illustrated this by recounting a recent experience of trying to buy a cup of coffee using his credit card at a Las Vegas branch of Starbucks, and being asked to present some form of picture ID. In the end he produced an expired security pass which the person serving him accepted in spite of having no real way of knowing whether it was, in fact, genuine.

“There’s no actual security taking place here, but as long as I know my lines and she knows her lines, then everyone is happy. That’s where we are with transactions in general right now. But if I had had my Starbucks app, I could have paid for my coffee using that without any trouble.”

Talks at Mendeley David Birch 3

The idea is that in an age dominated by mobile phones and apps, we don’t need one universal sort of currency that works everywhere. We can instead more easily and securely use “Starbucks Money” or any other kind of situation-specific money, with the same sort of convenience, as technology mediates your transactions for you in increasingly efficient ways.

In this brave new world, crowdsourced resources and systems based on your reputation – such as a LinkedIn profile – are much more appropriate forms of verifying identity than top-down imposed mechanisms:

“I wager money that it’s harder for any of you to forge a LinkedIn profile than it would be to forge a Western Australian Driving License that would get past someone”

disclaimer: Neither David Birch nor Mendeley is advising or in any way encouraging people to try either of these options at home.

Bitcoin does not, therefore, represent the actual future of transactions and money, but this cusp we’ve arrived at where it is not only possible, but safer and more convenient to create lots of different types of money that work within different communities. In this scenario, Bitcoin is the piece of technology that will enable this and allow that to happen. The Flux Capacitor of money if you will.

Talks at Mendeley David Birch 1

You can watch all the talks and Q&As on the Mendeley YouTube Channel Playlist, and to keep in the loop about the next Talks@Mendeley be sure to follow us on Twitter