One hack was so bad that it revealed personnel files on a large number of U.S. employees who work in different levels of government across the nation -- including data on their families and friends in a number of those files. The Washington Post reported that this hack was traced to the Chinese government. The Post writes (July 19, 2015):
"Two major breaches last year of U.S. government databases holding personnel records and security-clearance files exposed sensitive information about at least 22.1 million people, including not only federal employees and contractors but their families and friends, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The total vastly exceeds all previous estimates, and marks the most detailed accounting by the Office of Personnel Management of how many people were affected by cyber intrusions that U.S. officials have privately said were traced to the Chinese government."
A person with a sunny disposition might conclude this is all innocent, that China just wants to surprise us all with flowers. Whatever thoughts are on this in mainstream media, this story in the Washington Post doesn't get much more press and is swept under the rug. Meanwhile, the Chinese hacks continue as they pick apart and study everything that makes the U.S. operate and -- I personally think perhaps in a somewhat critical way of looking at this -- that China does not want to send us flowers.
The same article goes on to say that after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks of January 2015 in Paris there was an explosion of cyber-attacks on France. This is just another example of how one SHTF event can trigger others in a domino-like effect.
Now, you may be thinking that these attacks target mostly banks and websites. That, somehow, they can't affect us. I wish that were true. The idea of breaking into the government for example, is very appealing to many of these guys, who don't just do it for the money but are motivated by personal or even political reasons.
For example, Iranian hackers took control of the flood gates of a dam 20-miles away from New York City...
What happens if Iranian hackers one day open up the flood gates on several dams nationwide? Yes, this is a security risk. It's such a security risk that anyone in government with half a brain should have considered this kind of hack an act of war.
Who are these people and how many of them are there?
Nobody knows the exact number of hackers but one thing's for sure: they can be extremely dangerous. There are numerous hacker groups out there, not to mention the ones that do it alone or part-time to have some fun.
Some of the most famous:
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Anonymous (which declared war to the Islamic State but ISIS called them "idiots" because they hacked into Islamic State emails and Twitter accounts). Though they also penetrated the FBI and other organizations, they're also known for doing good deeds, such as taking down things like child pornography sites.
Milw0rm is another famous group, particularly because they targeted the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbay, an Indian nuclear research facility.
UGNazi is another group that targeted the US government and even the CIA. This one is fairly new, they started in 2011, which shows that, despite advancements in Internet security, more and more people are interested in doing bad things on the Internet.
Now, besides these groups of individuals who come from countries such as Russia, China, India, Turkey, Brazil and even the United States, there's also an entire country who's been accused of hacking. I'm talking, of course, about North Korea. In 2015, Sony was attacked by North Korean hackers and the U.S. imposed sanctions over the entire country (source).
Some of the hacking groups believed to be backed-up by Governments include:
The Syrian Electronic Army, a famous hacker group, whose original purpose was to support President Bashar al-Assad. They've been known to target government websites and other organizations, leading into a war with Anonymous...
APT1, apparently belonging to People's Liberation Army (a.k.a. the Chinese Army)...
Of course, these groups deny affiliations with their Governments and their leaders deny knowing about them, but they wouldn't be able to do it if their officials didn't let them. In addition, many of their deeds occur in response to certain political maneuvers.
For instance, the Russian group Nashi has launched multiple attacks on the Russian opposition. Obviously, they wouldn't do it unless they had political sponsorship. We all know most hackers consider themselves "hacktivists", meaning they fight for the greater good when they're not doing it for personal gain. Fighting for a political party, thus, makes little sense.
Probably the biggest evidence that there are government-backed hackers out there is this news about Microsoft hacks, in which the software giant admits over 1,000 Hotmail accounts have been compromised by hackers with ties to the Chinese Government. The question to ask is: Who's hotmail accounts did the Chinese government hack into?
Now, the number of hackers is only expected to grow since places like Africa and the Middle East have very low penetration due to poverty. However, with technology getting cheaper, more and more people from 3rd world countries will have access to a computer and the Internet, which will almost certainly lead to an increase in cybercrime.
What about the dreaded ISIS? Do they have their own hackers? Apparently so. According to IT Pro Portal, they took down the BBC website for a few hours, showing that the dreaded terrorist groups is fighting the civilized world on every level it can.
Given the fact that there's an entire country of 24 million people who can launch these hacker attacks, and keeping in mind that every Government that matters has its own computer geniuses, what are the odds of a violent, coordinated, hacker attack on the United States?
I don't have a number, I don't think anyone does, but I had to bring this to your attention because this is a threat that doesn't seem to get a lot of attention with most preppers worried about EMPs, an economic collapse and, most recently, the increasing terrorist threat.
Hackers can literally wreak havoc with just a keyboard. Some of the things they can do:
They can flood entire regions, as proven by their ability to take control of the flood gates of a dam...
They can affect the water supply (like they did in 2011 in Illinois)...
They can affect the power grid (they did it 79 times in 2014 in the U.S. alone)...
They can interfere with the communication at local, federal and state level, which means they can prevent bad guys from getting caught...
They can steal money from your bank account and credit card (obviously)...
They can cause power outages (such as this one from January 2016)...
...and they can even affect oil and gas pipelines.
In an increasingly digital world, they can gain access to more and more devices that control every aspect of our lives.
Hackers have plenty of aces down their sleeves when it comes to compromising individual computers or entire networks. Some of the most common ways they can get access to them is by:
Launching Denial of Service attacks on websites (literally flooding the servers that holds these websites with so many requests that they can't handle them).
Cracking passwords of bank and other website accounts using brute force (that is to say, by using automated software to try every possible combination of letters, numbers and other characters to guess your password).
Infecting computers with viruses and malware, either by sending SPAM email with infected executable files or by making viruses in such a way that they propagate themselves using USB sticks, CDs, DVDs and so on.
Or sending people to fake login pages (that look exactly like the ones you're trying to log into after you're clicking the fake link in the email; for example Facebook or PayPal).
What can you do to protect yourself?
There are a lot of things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of hackers but, before I let you in on what those are, I have to be honest with you: unless you're completely off-grid, if a bad guy really wants to hack you, he can do it.
Still, the chances of you becoming a direct target are small, you're most likely to become an "accidental" victim because of poor online protection and behavior on your part. Some of the best things you can do to protect yourself from hackers, viruses and other cyber-attacks:
2. Don't use easy passwords and update them regularly (make sure they have at least a digit, a capital letter and a non-alphanumeric character).
3. Use antivirus protection (McAfee, Kaspersky and Webroot are among the best while Avast and Bitdefender are two of the best choices for Mac).
4. Install OS updates on your computer (and restart your computer ASAP if required).
5. Use a modern browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.
6. Regularly delete spam email (your child may decide to mess around with it and open some of those links).
7. Always update your browser (unless it updates itself in the background).
8. If your anti-virus doesn't have it, install a separate anti-spyware program on your computer.
9. If you're running a blog or a website, install updates on the systems you use (such as wordpress plugins) as soon as they come out make regular back-ups of important files and documents either on a USB stick or, even better, on a DVD.
10. Turn off Bluetooth and data connection on your phone when you're not using it (you'll still be able to make phone calls).
11. Avoid surfing the web from your hotel as a hacker may already be inside the network and watch everything you're doing.
12. Some people say to use gmail.com for your e-mail communication as they have an excellent spam filter, and, some would say, they are less susceptible to hacker threats than other services such as Yahoo and Hotmail. This is just something I've been told of course; I can't personally say that I can prove that is true or not. If web providers can show how many times they've been hacked, or have blocked hacks, that would be a good selling point and a reason to choose one service provider vs. another.
13. Turn off your computer when you don't use it for a longer period of time.
14. Avoid downloading e-mail attachments with an .exe or .zip file extensions unless they're from someone you trust (even if it's from someone you trust, if you're not expecting a file, call or text them to check that they indeed sent you this file; remember, if your friend or colleague has been hacked, or has malware on their computer, their computer can be used to send deceiving emails with infected files).
15. Avoid clicking on links that require you to log in to PayPal or your bank account (check to see if the URL is correct).
16. Avoid using the exact same password for all your online accounts (if a hacker gets access to it by cracking one website, he or she will obviously have access to all your online data).
17. Avoid clicking on banners which take you to download various software that you don't need (hint: if you click the close button of a banner and it doesn't close the ad but takes you to another site, you should hit the back button or close the browser tab instead of continuing on that website).
18. Regularly scan your computer for viruses using your antivirus software (Avast Antivirus software is free to download and install with thousands of good reviews; be sure to choose Windows vs. Mac as their are different editions available).
19. Delete everything before you sell your hardware and devices (to avoid some of your personal files getting into the wrong hands).
20. Avoid linking accounts (a huge number of apps now allow you to log into them using your Facebook or Twitter accounts).
21. Avoid storing your credit card number and security code on your computer just because it's easier to copy paste.
22. Check your bank statements for any unusual charges and don't be afraid to ask what they are.
23. Change the username and password of any device that has one (such as your router).
24. Check security camera logs to see what IPs have accessed your devices.
25. Keep your money in cash or even gold and silver to avoid it being stolen from your bank account in the blink of an eye (your bank accounts won't be available in case of a national SHTF event such as an economic collapse -- more on this below).
26. Avoid home automation systems as they're very new to the market and susceptible to attacks.
27. Only install apps from the app store on your phone, not from individual websites.
28. Change the default phone password or PIN.
29. Don't click on SMS links from senders you don't know (better yet, delete them immediately).
30. Last, but not least -- if hacker events start effecting everyone, and hackers find ways to get around all the steps network providers and we ourselves are taking to protect ourselves, it might be time to turn off the internet and smart phone completely when it comes to banking and spending money and paying bills.
Think back a few years to the recent past when all our banking was done at the bank; of course, though that might protect your own account numbers from someone trying to hack you, it doesn't protect your bank; odds are your bank will still be connected to a network, so it might be a good idea to ensure that wherever you bank you don't keep all your money just at that bank.
For those of you with a lot of money, it might be smart to keep it in more than one bank; that way if one bank network goes down, you'll still have access to cash at a separate bank. Perhaps a smaller credit union with only a local office would be a smart way to go in that regard.
All hell breaks loose.
Those with cash on hand, cash kept in safes, make a run on stores. They're the lucky ones (perhaps blessed I should say) who saw the warnings signs and took steps to be prepared.
Those without cash make a run on stores as well; looting and robberies erupt across the land.
Those who buy gold at companies like Lear Capital JM Bullion may have just lost their gold investments -- it's possible that companies that hold gold investments can be hacked in a coordinated attack as well; just like that, losing all record of your gold deposits (if you invest in gold, be sure to keep a well documented paper trail -- with signatures -- and be sure to ask before investing in gold with a company what kind of paper records they keep to prove that you own gold with them, should a hacker event take place that takes down their network).
You need to be prepared for a wide-variety of disaster scenarios such as grid-down situations, power outages or your utilities being cut off. How do you do that? Well, by taking care of the basics of survival and preparedness: Stockpiling food, water, and meds; learning important things such as survival medicine; planting and harvesting; woodworking and bartering and, of course, staying up-to-date with current events. Home security (fortifications for your home) and personal self defense will be paramount for many as well.
In addition to being prepared, the more off-grid you become, the more likely it will be that you'll survive unscathed in case of a major hacker attack at a local, regional or even national level. For example:
Use a rainwater harvesting system, dig a well, and or store water in large water tanks (those approved for drinking water, even 260 gallon water storage tanks are available; if you have a family with kids, you're going to need hundreds of gallons of water just for the first 90 days to 6 months following an SHTF event); or you can move to a location that has a river nearby to meet your water needs.
Install solar panels or a small wind turbine to reduce energy costs and keep your home lit when the grid goes down (if you live out in the countryside that is; if you live in the city, those solar panels and wind turbine make your home a target -- not unless you can disguise both; good luck).
Insulate your home and provide alternate means of heating it in case the utilities get shut off. Remember those Iranians who took control of the flood gates of that New York dam? What happens when hackers attack our critical infrastructure and destroy our electrical grid? Ted Koppel, an investigative journalist who much of the world remembers from ABC Nightline, wrote about this in his recent best selling non-fiction book: Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.
In this New York Times bestselling investigation, Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America's power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared...
Is hacking your expertise? Any chance you'd share a few tips with readers on how they can protect themselves?
Another hope I have is that Western hackers will recognize the threats against us from other nations; remember, if that power grid goes down, a hacker's way of life will come to an abrupt end.
No more electricity means no more computers and no more networks to hack into. Maybe a better hobby for U.S. hackers would be to start hacking foreign governments, a lot like the Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans and Russians are hacking America's government right now. It would be nice to uncover what those governments are doing with all the data they are collecting on Americans, and our networks.
Not that I'm advocating anything illegal -- but if we are at war, and it would truly seem like the world is currently engaged in a cyber war, then hacking a foreign government might be something that saves lives, and I'm all for saving lives, God willing, before the next world war.