Illustration by Cierra Pedro

Worse Than Internet Trolls, Cybercriminals Have Computer Networks in a Tizzy

Experts are warning the public to take action to avoid serious risks against malware

From pop-up adds advertising $1,000 prizes to emails from fraudulent Nigerian princes, attempts to penetrate users’ computer systems seem primordial in 2018.

Increasingly, however, sophisticated cybercriminals are churning out a vast amount of malicious software, referred to as malware, and experts are warning the public to take action to avoid serious risks.

“New malware is created every day. Worse malware is created on an ongoing basis,” says Dan Manson, professor emeritus of computer information systems at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “The bad guys are ahead of the game because they spend more time seeing what they can do to create malware than we on the other side can keep up with.”

Manson, a new Las Vegas resident who hopes to develop cybersecurity education at the College of Southern Nevada, was one of a trio of computer system experts to visit the Mob Museum on January 11 in a discussion titled “Courtroom Conversation: Digital Swindlers: Organized Crime Infects the Internet.” The group painted a picture of increased challenges in halting the spread of malware and emphasized the growing sphere of cybersecurity, which focuses on protection of digital systems against unauthorized use.

Cybersecurity has grown into an essential topic in the digital sphere, particularly after breaches last year at businesses including credit reporting agency Equifax potentially exposed the personal information of millions of Americans.

“One of the number one threats right now to any corporation or business is cyber,” says panelist Scott S. Smith, assistant director for the cyber division of the FBI. “It is something that comes in like a tornado and just destroys everything in its path.”

In some cases, cybercrimes can be traced back to users seeking to cause chaos to or damage a specific country on behalf of another nation or rebel groups. In the past, these attacks have been referred to as cyberwarfare or cyberterrorism.

However, definitions are changing as the world enters a new era of cybercrime in which criminals can cause such extensive damage that they create national threats.

The growing malware problem is worsened by a gap in America’s skilled cybersecurity workforce. The nonprofit Center for Cyber Safety and Education estimates the cybersecurity workforce gap is “on pace to hit 1.8 million by 2022.”

In such dangerous digital times, users have the power fight back, says Hayden Williams II, a senior security specialist for Verizon RISK team.

His main tip: Allow computer systems to complete those pesky updates. Be particularly careful when connecting flash drives, as they can act as hosts for malware to spread from computer to computer.

Back up files and do so often on a separate machine or hard drive. Ensure passwords are complicated to guess.

Be wary of phishing emails, even if they appear to be sent from a friend.

“We have to appreciate,” Manson says, “that the risk we take in the online world is as great as any risk we take in the physical world.”