Internet Security Threats Other Than Cyber-Attacks

Cyber-attacks have been on the rise and it has negatively affected many big companies. TalkTalk is one of the recent victims whereby personal data of about 4 million of its customers was stolen. However, studies were conducted regarding online security and the results showed that there is a bigger risk to online security apart from cyber crime.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct a survey on incidents of cyber security across companies in the UK. The survey was aimed at creating awareness among UK businesses of the risks and key trends. PwC released a report which showed that security breaches that are staff related has risen to 75%. The previous year, only 58% of large companies were affected. Small businesses were not left out as 31% also suffered security breaches that were staff related. This is an increase from the previous year where only 22% of small businesses were affected.

Businesses that took part in the survey were questioned about the worst breach they had suffered and 50% of them said their worst breaches were caused by human error. This is an increase from the 31% that was recorded the previous year. The cost of these incidents has also doubled causing some to change the nature of their businesses. The report also stated that incidents of human error were “near certainty.” They advised businesses to ensure their defenses kept pace with the Internet security threats.

Cyber Attack
Apart from PwC, CheckRecipient also conducted its own research. CheckRecipient is a cyber security company and it works with law firms in the UK to ensure sensitive information is not emailed to the wrong person. The report showed that in 2014, 9% of the data security incidents reported was as a result of human error. This is higher than intentional cyber espionage that accounts for 0.8% of the data security incidents. The CEO of CheckRecipient, Tim Sadler, was surprised that not much attention was being given to the inside Internet security threat faced by most companies.

Security breaches caused by human error can be categorized into 3 parts and PwC reported on how each part was affected. They include:

1.Breach of laws and regulations that govern data protection. In 2014, 45% of such incidents occurred while in 2015, the incidents increased to 57%.

2.Unauthorized access to systems or data. 57% of such incidents occurred in 2014 but in 2015, they rose to 65%.

3.Loss or leakage of financial information. These incidents rose from 55% in 2014 to 66% in 2015.

Morrisons is one of the companies that suffered an incident related to personal data loss of its customers. Andrew Skelton who was a senior internal auditor in the head office at Bradford, received discipline for conducting eBay deals using the company’s postroom. Due to this, he got through company controls, obtained and leaked data that contained dates of birth, national insurance numbers, bank account details and salaries of nearly 100,000 employees. The information was sent to various newspapers. He was later sentenced to 8 years in jail. It costs Morrisons more than 2 million pounds to deal with the problem.

Internet Security
Despite the company’s efforts and Andrew Skelton being jailed, some 2000 current and former employees of the company have sued the company due to the leaked information claiming that the company had the responsibility of keeping such information confidential. Morrisons refused to accept liability for the actions of Andrew Skelton. The spokesman of the company also said the company was not aware of anyone who suffered financial loss from the breach.

In PwC’s report, it was noted that some of the Internet security incidents were as a result of giving low priority to security, poorly understood Internet security policies and lack of briefing company boards of security risks. Companies that had faced such problems suffered more security breaches compared to those that gave Internet security high priority, trained their staff on Internet security and briefed the board of the company about any security risks the company faces.

As Internet security threats increase due to human error, both small and large companies should focus on dealing with this Internet security threat first as it costs a lot of money to control the damage. After that, other Internet security threats can be focused on.

Facebook Blocks More Contents In India

In 2014, social media giant Facebook had announced that they blocked nearly 5,0000 content pieces from India during first six months of the year following requests by mostly government agencies.

According to India Facebook report for Government Request Report, the restriction of the pieces of content came about following requests law enforcement agencies of India and also the India Computer Emergency Report Team. The restrictions were done under local laws that proscribe criticism of the state or religion.

Facebook Apps

During his visit to the South Asian country in October 2014, Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, said he was open to helping Narendra Modi, the new Prime Minister, to connect remote and distant villages to the internet.

In Facebook’s 2014 report that listed 83 countries all over the world, India led the world with 4,960 registered requests for regulating content. It was followed by Turkey and Pakistan which had 1,893 and 1,173 registered requests respectively.

India also recorded the second-highest requests by government to access user accounts. It had 5,958 such requests, behind the US which requested Facebook to access the accounts of 23,667 accounts.

Government requests on the rise

The Deputy General Counsel of Facebook, Mr. Chris Sonderby, wrote in November 2014 in a blog post that the data show that government requests for content and data had gone up by 24% worldwide compared to second half of 2013.

Sonderby added that the giant social media company was working to push nations for greater transparency and also to reform surveillance practices required to build the trust of people in the internet.

According to Facebook, it is common for governments to request for data on Facebook users as part of the official investigations.

Most of these requests are linked to criminal cases such as kidnappings or robberies. In most of these requests, governments seek basic subscriber information like name and sometimes length of service. Some requests have gone further to ask for actual account content or IP address logs.

“Every single request that we receive is subject to checks for legal sufficiency. It is a requirement that officials provide us with substantive description of factual and legal basis for their request. When we realize legal deficiencies or vague overly broad demands for information, we push it back,” read a statement from the company.

The company further added that even where they determine that local laws would force them to disclose information, they only share basic subscriber information.

Why the number of blocks is increasing in India

facebook content block request
In the same period of time last year, only some 4,960 posts were blocked in India. In 2015 however, this number has increased by almost three times. While Facebook states that government-requested content blocks have gone up globally by about 18%, the most likely reason explaining the massive surge in blocks of posts in India is due to the growing political unrest in the country.

In the data released by Facebook in its biannual Government Requests Report, India requested to restrict 15,155 pieces of content, three times the requests it made during the same period last year.

Scientists have even come up with a way of determining mathematically the virality-quotient of a post. This describes how information spreads, social aggregations and higher dimensional groups.

There are some 130 million monthly Facebook users in India, which is the highest number of users after the United States. Greater number of users means great quantity of posts. With this comes even more hate mongers and individuals peddling falsehoods and information. Sometimes these people just want the information to go viral.

Online Anonymity

This clampdown on information by government agencies in India may lead to people resorting to online anonymity. Online anonymity is where users browse the internet without their identities being revealed. Online anonymity provides layer of protection for individuals’ privacy. Online anonymity lets individuals express their views and ideas without fear of being judged. This phenomenon of online anonymity is very common in Russia where the government really checks what people say over the internet. Online anonymity is also a vital tool for free speech.

This is the third time that Facebook is releasing the report since its reception way back in 2013, and in the three years, India has been topping the list of content removal request.

Global Internet Freedom Has Been declining

Freedom on the Net 2015 Report by Freedom House

The annual report by Freedom House, an independent government watchdog, indicates there are setbacks as far as Internet anonymity is matter of concern. The setbacks were highly noticeable in the Middle East, contrary to admirable gains witnessed in the “Arab Spring.” The non-profit advocacy group found declines in online freedom of expression in thirty two countries of the sixty five that were assessed since June 2014, notable declines being witnessed in France, Libya and Ukraine. Freedom on the Net 2015 report shows that 61% of the world’s population that lives in countries characterized by criticisms of the government, military or ruling family is subjected to online censorship while 58% of the population lives in countries where bloggers are jailed for taking to social platforms to share content on political, social and religious matters. For instance, Thailand was noted to be one of the worst offenders of online freedom, and its extremely strict lese majeste laws forbid anyone to insult the monarchy.

Man Hand with Laptop
According to the latest report, many governments are increasingly censoring content from opponents especially on social platforms. These governments have gone to an extent of pressuring service providers such as Google, Twitter and Facebook to delete sensitive content. They are also piling pressure on individuals and private sector to remove or delete offensive content rather than filtering and blocking. They are trying to convince such persons to delete the content instead of blocking them due to the fact that online users are becoming more technologically savvy every minute hence able to circumvent any state-imposed blocks by using Internet anonymity tools. Freedom House notes that out of the 65 countries assessed, 14 countries passed laws over the past one year to enhance electronic surveillance. The report further notes that French citizens were among the most affected after new restrictions on online content were imposed. The country introduced a new surveillance law, further dampening Internet anonymity of its citizens. While online users strive to have Internet anonymity, a need that has seen them become more adept when it comes to evading website blocks and national firewalls, the governments on the other side have responded by increasing restrictions for the use of Internet anonymity tools and encryption technologies. China is a good example after it passed a law that requires telecom providers and ISPs to install “back door access” to all encrypted devices and traffic.

France came up with sweeping legislation that requires telecommunications providers and carriers to install “black boxes” to enable the government collect and analyze metadata on their respective networks. Libyans also had their online freedom highly compromised, with Freedom House citing that there is a troubling rise in violence against independent bloggers, escalating costs of mobile phone services, new political censorship cases and rising prices of Internet services. Ukraine is another country identified by Freedom House to be a culprit in disrespecting Internet anonymity of its citizens. In Ukraine, any citizen who posted content critical of the government policies was prosecuted. Additionally, there was increased violence especially from pro-Russian paramilitary groups fighting against online users posting pro-Ukraine content in eastern regions. These harsh punishments imposed on critics both in Ukraine have been linked with the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. The annual report further pointed out that a sizable number of countries in the Middle East as well as North America, where the “Arab Spring” emergence back in 2010 and 2011 was partially aided by social media activists, were cracking down on any government critic.

Freedom House ranked China as the worst abuser of Internet freedom in 2015. Chinese officials continue to squeeze the Web including cracking down more than 200 citizens for their online activities while at the same time blocking access to several virtual private networks (VPNs), used for Internet anonymity and bypass firewalls. Syria and Iran came in second and third in the list of the worst offenders of online freedom. Looking back to previous years, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Vietnam were rated among the governments that suppressed freedom of speech, but it seems this year things are slightly different. The expansion that has been enjoyed by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq as well as its brutal use of social media in tracking and punishing opponents has been noted to be a driving force pushing the Middle East to become a region that doesn’t grant online freedom to its people.

Quick Stats

Global Map
With more than 3 billion people having access to Internet, here is a simple breakdown of how their Internet anonymity or online freedom is violated.

61%: Live in countries that subject criticism of the government, military or ruling family to strict censorship.

47%: Live in countries where citizens were attacked or even killed for their online activities.

58%: Live in countries where ICT users or bloggers were sent to jail for sharing sensitive content on political, social & religious issues.

45%: live in countries where activities such as posting satirical videos, cartoons or writings can lead to censorship or jail term.

Some Good News

Although the general curve seems to be in favor of strict online censorship rather than Internet anonymity, 15 of the 65 countries that were surveyed registered some improvements. One notable nation is Cuba, which showed greater tolerance towards online criticisms of Havana by Cubans. Additionally, Cuba also reduced the cost of Internet access by half.