You Live in Two Worlds
Take a moment to stop and consider your surroundings. What do your senses tell you about the world around you? Make a mental list of all the people, places, and things that you can see, hear, taste, touch, or smell.
This is (some of) the Physical World.
But there’s another world all around you. One that extends from the fiber-optic cables buried beneath you all the way up to satellites twenty-thousand miles over your head. It is an invisible world that manages every bit of information and every device that’s ever connected to the Internet.
This is the Digital World.
A New World (of Information)
Humans always have existed in the Physical World. More recently, humans have begun to reside in the Digital World, as well. An estimated 48% of individuals worldwide now exist in the Digital World, according to a 2017 ITU study. This number is expected to rise as Internet access becomes cheaper and reaches more remote places.
Growth in the Digital World isn’t just a result of more people getting online. In the United States—where over 80% of consumers use the Internet—people are spending more time on connected devices with each passing year. When asked how often they use the Internet, 21% of consumers responded “almost constantly” to a study conducted by Pew Research.
This signifies a clear trend.
More aspects of our lives are happening online, and we increasingly need to connect to the Digital World for work, school, play, and keeping in touch with loved ones.
This can be a good thing. The Internet (and other global information networks) enable us to do more than we ever could without it. Our ability to learn, create, share, and explore has never been greater.
But the growth of the Digital World has happened quickly. It was built piece-by-piece over the last three decades by the work of millions of programmers and billions of users. As a result, the Digital World is full of security holes, leaving the door wide open for criminals to abuse and exploit data, devices, and the people who rely on them.
The damage that these criminals do is enormous. In 2016, Forbes reported that criminals cost businesses and individuals as much as $500 billion and expect that to rise to as much as $2 trillion in damages. Estimates about the cost of cybercrime vary widely, but experts generally agree that costs will continue to rise as the value of the Digital World increases and as cybercriminals become more powerful and innovative.
These criminals are difficult to stop because they can commit their crimes with the same ease as you can send an email. Attacks can be launched from any location, on any device.
The Future of Cybercrime: New Threats, New Targets
Historically, cybercriminals primarily went after high-value targets like governments and big businesses. But now, with new techniques and technologies, cybercriminals can go after smaller targets like individuals—and more of them at one time.
Ask yourself this: if you lost your mobile phone (or laptop, or social media account, or your music and pictures), how much would you pay to get it back?
The reality is that given the right opportunity, cybercriminals can stop you from using your mobile devices or accessing your data and sell it back to you for whatever they decide. This is called ransomware , and it’s a growing threat to consumers and businesses alike. Between 2015 and 2016, ransomware saw a 6,000% increase, resulting in more than $1 billion in theft.
A Threat to Everyone
It’s not just personal data and mobile devices at risk. Criminals are targeting the critical infrastructure required for civilization. Recent attacks on critical infrastructure include power stations in Ukraine, commuter trains in San Francisco, banks in India, and police surveillance cameras in Washington, D.C.
These attacks are becoming more dangerous as they reach more people than ever before, and as we put more of our lives online, we create new targets and new ways for criminals to strike.
And let’s not forget. The Digital World is part of the Physical World. Digital threats are real threats.
Digital Spam isn’t like Spam Mail
For an example of how the Digital World and Physical World differ, consider the various ways you receive mail.
If you have a mailbox in the Physical World, you’ve probably encountered junk mail. Think of those pesky mailers showcasing dubious advertisements. If you have an inbox in the Digital World, you’ve probably encountered spam email.
At first glance, digital spam and junk mail seem about the same.
The big difference is that cybercriminals learn a little bit about you every time you interact with their messages in digital spam. Clicking on a link, calling a phone number, installing an app, or responding to an email are all ways that cybercriminals collect information that they can use to improve future attacks on you and others.
While you might not carry your Physical World mailbox around, anyone with a cell phone, laptop, or tablet has a door to the Digital World that criminals can use to reach you anytime, anywhere.
It’s not all bad news though. The Digital World also provides us with new tools for fighting cybercrime.
Threat intelligence organizations, like SpamResponse, work to identify and stop cybercriminals and the deceptive, fraudulent, and illegal activity they promote online. By reporting cybercrime to threat intelligence organizations, you help further that goal by providing organizations like SpamResponse with unique insights into cybercrime—insights that can only be gathered by consumers like you.
Learning the basics of cybersecurity also makes you harder for cybercriminals to target. The more people who learn to protect themselves from cybercrime, the fewer opportunities that cybercriminals have to capitalize on their efforts and fund future attacks.
[Information] Security for Everyone
The only way to keep safe is to be personally involved in your cybersecurity.
This isn’t a wild idea. We already do it when it comes to security in the Physical World. We understand our lives are better when we have stable and secure access to the things we need—food, water, shelter—so we do a little extra work to make sure that we will continue to have access those Physical World elements.
It’s time to start doing the same thing online, but for many of us, that means learning about the Digital World, understanding how we interact with it, and learning what to do to make our interactions with it safe, trustworthy, and reliable. That’s why we’re creating a combination of educational material, security news, and tools to help consumers like you protect your Digital World.
To learn more about this project, or to get started on your own Information Security, commonly referred to as "InfoSec," journey, visit SpamResponse’s Resources section.