Modern Adversities: Cyber Threats…or Trade-Off?


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The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light upon humanity, previously unnoticed crucial flaws within our system; from exposing incompetent healthcare systems, panicked governments, and to the very recent case of vulnerable cyber systems.

Tokopedia, a huge Indonesia-based online shopping platform has recently been hacked and had approximately 91 million of its customers’ data stolen and sold in the black market, or as the hackers call their market, the Dark Web. A system of interconnected web of information that lies much deeper than the usual internet we commonly surf in: To google, watch youtube, or simply browse in. The Dark Web requires a special browser to be installed in order to access it, and is such a complicated system that even government intelligences have a hard time cracking and tracking its ongoings, causing hackers and illicit criminals to linger. It’s a whole new world of illegal trade of information and services, compressed into 0s and 1s . Without getting too technical, basically, due to this difficulty, these hackers have yet to be tracked by the company and cyber security force.

Although Tokopedia and affiliated e-wallet company, OVO has assured users that important information such as passwords have not been breached and remain undisclosed as it is guarded by a very secure “Hash” encryption and OTP system, they have also advised users to regularly change their passwords, but this was besides the point. Without having their passwords disclosed, every other information such as phone number, addresses, etc have already been revealed. This alone, is enough to compromise their safety because that information is enough for profiling and phishing and will fetch a high price. It is as they say; Information is the new Gold.

This issue spans from both extremes of the spectrum, both macro and micro perspectives. As we are under the industrial revolution 4.0, where technology and information is constantly and rapidly being integrated into our lives, from industrial productions to personal livelihoods. We are now completely dependent on our devices; From cellphones, to laptops and TVs, and especially Wi-Fi. This is especially true when we are now under quarantine. Everyone is working and studying from the comforts of home, utilizing all their gadgets to stave off boredom. Computer engineers that work from home are less efficient with their surveillance computers left at their workplace and it is unlikely for them to bring these massive computers home to work from and ensure the same level of web security as before the pandemic. Limited government resources are also being concentrated into healthcare services. Cyber traffic is high amid fears and uncertainty, as well as more time online that promotes riskier behaviour. All these factors promote hacker activity and prosperity. Not to forget, that government officials are now also transmitting information online, through phone calls or emails. Court hearings have also gone virtual in certain places, Indonesia included, as recently as April last month according to the Jakarta Post, tempting hackers further in the acquisition of high profile information.

Currently, one of the most sought after information is in the medical and research field, on the cure to the Coronavirus. Any information and progress on the virus is pivotal to governments, companies and stakeholders, which encapsulates everyone. Anyone who can get ahead in the race to the cure can get undeniably rich and have leverage over others, bargaining power like no other. Governments would pay for information on anything that can improve their images in the international stage and leaders to gain votes and legitimacy. Information is that important and plays a linchpin role in the revolution of these times.

Information is power, and everyone is after it. This is proven to be the current trend. As recent as March, the World Health Organization (WHO), crucial in the global handling of the global pandemic, has experienced a high profile hack into their systems among the already spiking number of attempts against it. This particular hack was done by a group of cyber criminals that refer to themselves as DarkHotel, known to have been conducting cyber-espionage since 2007. These hackers have attempted to steal passwords from agency staffers. According to a Reuters reporter that had inquired officials from the WHO regarding the issue, the organization has claimed that attempts to breach its systems have more than doubled; Either to steal information, impersonate or alter statistics and reports regarding the pandemic.

From a macro perspective, hackings are as dangerous as it gets. Hackers have gotten so proficient in these acts that even imitations to a trusted report source on the Covid-19 situation such as the John Hopkins real-time report has been imitated. This is done to misinform the public and mitigate actions against the pandemic. Do not be mistaken, hackers are not always the shifty individuals that get cooped up indoors that movies portray, they also are not necessarily criminals. Many are state-backed or state-employed to help combat other hackers against the government; Fight fire with fire.  This is where the worry comes from, who is to say what the national interest really is or whether or not the interest of the state is aligned with its people’s or fellow states. Misinformation, defamation, and hoaxes can be easily exploited and worsen inter-state relations.

In a micro perspective, one may question, “why does this matter to me?

It does. Emails from legitimate sources such as the WHO have also been imitated in order to phish users, as well as scam people for personal information by posing as the government providing aided funds for businesses and struggling individuals or enterprises. One may not notice it, but we are so attached to our devices that millennials and generation Zs cannot live without being connected to the internet. From messaging, calling, transactions; Everything can be done with a tap of a finger. Amid the pandemic, the usage of contact tracing apps that aim to help governments improve action against the containment of possibly positive Covid-19 patients are being enforced; South Korea, America, and China, are few of the many countries that are highly advocating its use. Slowly have we realised that this allows the government to place its people under complete surveillance, which some countries are being claimed to abuse this right more than others, for purposes beyond the combat of Covid-19. Yesterday, Apple and Google banned the use of location tracking in contact tracing apps that use GPS in order to prevent this, instead the use of bluetooth is trying to be enforced.

In regards to the individual, every aspect of our lives are now mostly digital. You are reading this off a digital advice right now, this article was written digitally too. “Moving towards a digital and cashless society is inevitable.” We often hear as we phase towards industrial revolution 5.0 after 4.0; but the basis of every economic thought resurfaces, “there is a trade off to everything.”

When we indulge in these activities, it is because we opt for the “easier”, “faster”, and “cheaper” option, unbeknownst that we are paying for these things by giving out our personal information that third parties are trading again to marketing and ad companies to get us to buy more things (targeted advertisement), promoting consumerism, or perhaps the government just wants to know where you are. The difference between the use of internet cookies and a hacker’s Trojan malware is getting blurred. The only difference being, who you are giving your personal information to and whether you had to press an “I agree” button or not. The transition towards this massive digitalized society is indeed as inevitable as how society has moved from coins to cash or letters to emails, but are we ready for it? Or are we moving too fast for our own good?

Yizhi Riangmi adalah Peneliti di Kontekstual.

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