Cyber security experts warn about more cyber heists

Cyber security experts have sounded warnings over the probability of a surge in computer-enabled crimes amid radical lifestyle changes ushered-in by the so-called new normal. 

The warning was issued in the wake of the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) heist which has been referred to as “foreshadowing of things to come” as business enterprises and the general public became increasingly dependent on the internet.

The shift to the work-from-home arrangement, coupled with an explosion in online businesses since the pandemic restricted travel, was a boon for cyber criminals, Palo Alto Networks country manager Oscar Visaya said,  noting that many firms jumped into the new normal bandwagon unprepared to fend off sophisticated cyber criminals mainly because of their ignorance of basic “cyber hygiene”.

Visata said criminals need not be in cahoots with company insiders to pull off a successful cyber bank heist because “unwitting moles” are aplenty.  

He noted that negligent employees using company-issued laptops for personal surfing, or one who remotely logs into the company system using a virus-laden device can provide hackers with a way into the firm’s records.

Visaya revealed that a survey they conducted last July  showed that many corporate executives are confident they are adequately protected against cyber attacks, indicating a disconcerting level of complacency despite the rising threat.

“Overconfidence is the enemy of the current state, because no one knows when we will be attacked. The problem is that cyber attackers are becoming smarter and they’re using advanced technologies like artificial intelligence,” he warned.

Visaya said many companies continue to rely on outdated systems and poorly trained personnel who are outgunned by today’s cyber crime syndicates. He described them as ill prepared to meet current cyber threats because they “lack the necessary systems, technology and processes.”

According Visaya, Palo Alto, touted as one of the world’s top cyber security companies, has mobilized a group known only as Unit 42 to electronically hunt down cyber crime rings and to foil future cyber attacks. 

The US-based company, he said, is open to working with local law enforcement agencies, including the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime Division to ferret out criminals in the internet.

Internet watchdog Democracy.Net.PH, for its part, has warned that the surge in information and communications technology (ICT) dependence created by the Covid-19 outbreak practically guarantees a commensurate increase in cybercrime incidents. 

The group’s co-founder Pierre Tito Galla said “black hat hackers,” the ICT industry’s moniker for criminal hackers, will naturally set their sights on banks and other financial institutions because the reward is potentially greater.

“There is an attack every day, they are just being defeated by the “white hats,” the cyber security professionals who daily clash with the criminal hackers.

Galla has urged state agencies, including the Bangko Sentral ng Pilioinas (BSP), to upgrade their cyber defenses. The BSP may be adequately protected, but the computer systems and the information contained therein of other government agencies are not as solidly fortified, he noted. 

“Most government agencies do not have the kind of cyber capability as the BSP. This is why every so often, it is not surprising to hear about agencies having been penetrated by cyber criminals,” he added.

Galla said that while electronic attacks on large firms may prove lucrative for internet criminals, ordinary individuals can just as easily be the targets, stressing that “there is also big money to be made by stealing personal information.” 

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