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Security & privacy

Inside the next big cybersecurity threat: Killware

Sci-fi enthusiasts have over the years pondered whether a robot invasion would be possible. But even if that can happen, there are far more significant cyberattack threats to your life that you need to worry about right now.

We’re not talking about natural disasters or illness, but other humans and the malicious use of technology. As the skills of hackers grow, the bigger the danger they pose to you and me. And no robots are needed.

This has been made painfully clear in a recent new trend of cyberattacks. These attacks aren’t out to steal your details or bank accounts. The main goal? To cripple life-giving and life-saving infrastructure. Read on for more information on this growing threat.

Here’s the backstory

Ransomware aims to lock down your files and information through specialized code. Once encrypted, a hacker will demand money (often in cryptocurrency) to unlock it and give back your files.

The new trend is killware, and it does exactly what it sounds like. It recently came to light that a cyberattack had been thwarted targeting the Oldsmar, Florida water system. But unlike the Colonial Pipeline attack that used ransomware to get money, the water system was attacked purely to harm humans.

Thankfully the hack was discovered before it could do damage, but it is worrying nonetheless. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told USA Today that if this water contamination attack succeeded, it would “have gripped our entire country.”

Homeland Security explained that the Oldsmar cyberattack was by no means an isolated event. Any facilities that deal with people are targets, including hospitals, water supplies, banks, police departments and transportation systems. The goal? To cause as much physical harm as possible.

Autonomous vehicles can also be hacked by killware, which would have a devastating result if bad actors remotely steered cars into highly populated areas. Connected thermostats are also vulnerable.

How to help stop cyberattacks

Technology analysts at Gartner are aware of the problems these types of attacks can cause. In a recent report, the company said that by 2025, “cyberattackers will have weaponized operational technology environments to successfully harm or kill humans.”

Here are some ways you can personally help thwart cyberattacks:

  • Where possible, enable two-factor authentication for your devices and online accounts. This adds another step in the security and login process and ensures bad actors can’t access your devices.
  • Never use default credentials on your home router. When you set it up, change the login details and ensure the password can’t be easily guessed. Tap or click here for help finding and changing your router’s password.
  • Make sure that the firmware, operating system and software on your devices are up to date. Updates include security patches that help protect them from hackers.

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