This is an original InfoHub that has been written by the Irish Observer in order to help people using the internet to understand some of the basic issues relating to security, confidentiality and privacy. This is a 4,500 word InfoHub that is the original work of The Irish Observer unless otherwise referenced.
Internet security and confidentiality are a global concern for users and providers of Internet services, the most recent report from Symantec Intelligence Quarterly (http://www.symantec.com/security_response/index.jsp) clearly shows that security threats to the Internet are increasing at an alarming rate. It is therefore essential that both Internet users and service providers clearly understand those threats and how best to protect themselves from such threats.
This hub will begin by explaining what the Internet is how it works and how it has expanded to incorporate almost 2 Billion registered users. The hub will then explain in simple terms what happens when an Internet user clinks on a link on the Internet. This report will then examine the level of threat that actually exists on the Internet using the most up to date security information. Threats such as malware, Trojans and phishing will be examined.
This hub will look at the use of filtering software and in particular the use of the firewall system as an on line security tool. The hub will then set out to explain how a computer system can be protected from viruses transmitted via the Internet; this protection can come from hardware and software anti-virus protection and by applying a few basic rules when accessing the net. This hub will explain the use of encryption to maintain confidentiality on the internet, while widely used by financial institutions; encryption can also be useful for individual internet users. This hub will explain the use of digital signatures as a means to verify identity on the Internet; digital signatures are specifically designed to improve personal security. This hub will explain the purpose and potential risk associated with cookies, cookies while informative for e-Business and e-Commerce can also be misused, this will be explained.
Anti-virus software and common-sense will be examined in terms of their value in relation to improving online security, privacy and confidentiality for Internet users and service providers. This hub will examine the need to preserve personal privacy and security when using the Internet, this is particularly important with the advent of social networking as a global phenomenon. Social networking site Facebook with 500 million registered users will be investigated. This hub will conclude with a set of recommendations for Internet users and service providers.
What is the Internet?
What is the Internet? This is a question that can only be answered in the history and present day of the Internet as nobody knows what the Internet will be tomorrow such is the speed of development and technological advancement. It was Tim Berners-Lee; an Englishman who invented the Internet, however, he refused to claim ownership of his invention as he believed that the Internet should be without ownership and available to everyone. It was only in 1993-94 that the public grasped the reality of what the Internet could mean to them. In contrast to the modern over commercialised Internet and World Wide Web of today the Internet was not commercial in its embryonic stages of development.
The Internet began life as a malformed technology and was without funding or central management structures, it was an ad hoc device used to connect diverse computer systems that were the preserve of academics and researchers. The potential of the Internet was soon spotted by multi-national software companies and they invested in research and development to manufacture products that would allow lay people to use the Internet. Gateways were opened by online service providers and personal and business users became the engine that would drive the demand for further research and development of the Internet.
The Internet is now a global phenomenon and is best described as a computer network of networks, a spider web of interconnected networks; the Internet effectively allows computers to communicate with each other. The Internet knows no geographical boundaries and gives no quarter to racism or any other form of discrimination. The Internet uses standardised protocols called Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) this coded Internet language allows all types of computers that use all types of different software to communicate with each other on a global scale. Coded language such as hypertext which has been around longer than the Internet allows documents in information cyber space to be connected to any other document on the Internet. The Internet allows documents, pictures and videos to travel along the information high way from China to the USA, from Australia to Canada and effectively link the four corners of the earth at the push of a button and for the cost of a phone call.
When the internet was originally introduced as a method of communication there was a small community of internet users. In 2011 there are now 1,966,514,816 internet users. With the expansion of the internet and the growth in numbers of providers and users has come an ever increasing threat to individual users and computer systems from viruses transmitted via the internet. The threats to individual internet users and providers can range from malicious software known as malware, spyware attacks to credit card fraud and identity theft.
What Happens when you click on a Link on the Internet?
When an Internet user clicks on a link on the Internet they effectively fire the starting pistol for an information race. When a link is clicked it releases information, which is in effect a request for information, the user’s Internet IP packages the request for information and the race is on. The IP labels the information package and includes such information as the sender and receivers IP addresses and the proxy servers address, the information package then enters onto the Local Area Network (LAN). The LAN has access to all local computers, routers, printers and so forth, the LAN highway carries a range of different information packages. When the information package reaches the router the router reads the address on the package and places the package on the correct route. The router is systematic but not always up to speed those who use Broadband in Ireland will know this already.
The information package then enters the corporate internet highway and the router switch plays fast and loose with the IP packages, the information packages are then picked up at the interface. The proxy server acts as a middle man in order to keep pressure off the main frame and also acts as a security filter. The proxy opens the package and reads its URL, if the packet is acceptable it will pass on its journey but if the package is suspect it will be destroyed. Those packages that pass through the proxy server will continue on their journey where they will hit the firewall on their marathon journey, the corporate firewall will prevent any unwelcome packages passing into the Intranet and will also stop sensitive corporate information seeping out onto the Internet. Having passed through the firewall the information package will be placed on a narrow road way known as a bandwidth, when an IP realises that its information package has not made it to a certain destination in a certain time frame the IP will simply send another duplicate package.
There is little control and regulation on the Internet and so it is equivalent to a cyber-wild -west and so there are many dangers from many sources. When the information/IP package reaches its destination it will be scrutinised by another firewall, this firewall will only allow in what fits with the individual or corporate criteria set down. A PING of death (POD) is a virus attack on a computer. This virus using malformed or malicious ping is destroyed by the firewall. Non malicious PING packets pass through the firewall. At the interface the information package is lifted to the web server, opened and unpacked. When the information is cleared by the firewall and unpacked it is then visible on the requester’s computer screen.
The Level of Threat on the Internet
In Symantec Intelligence Quarterly (http://www.symantec.com/security_response/index.jsp) the threat to computers and computer systems are clearly set out:
a. The United States was the top country for malicious activity in this quarter, accounting for 21 per cent of the total;
b. The top web-based attack for the quarter was related to malicious PDF (Portable Document Format) activity, which accounted for 36 per-cent of the total;
c. Credit card information was the most commonly advertised item for sale on underground economy servers known to Symantec in this quarter, accounting for 28 per cent of all goods and services;
d. Symantec created 457,641 new malicious code signatures during this quarter;
e. The most common malicious code sample by potential infections during this quarter was the Sality.AE virus;
f. Symantec observed 12.7 trillion spam messages during this quarter, accounting for approximately 89% of all email messages observed;
g. The majority of brands used in phishing attacks this quarter were in the financial sector, which accounted for 73% of the total number of phishing attacks detected (http://www.symantec.com/security_response/index.jsp).
Malicious software is also known as malware, it is used to gain access to a computer or computer system without the knowledge or consent of the computer owner, malware is a code that will invade, attack or simply cause disturbance to an individual computer or computer system.
Malware is commonly described as a virus. A virus is best described as a code that is entered into your computer without your knowledge or consent. The advent of anti-virus programs spelt the death blow to many types of virus, however; viruses are constantly evolving (http://www.securepc.com/). One virus can infect millions of computers over a period of time.
Common sense plays a significant role when addressing viruses that undermine privacy, confidentiality and security on the Internet. Caution about which files and disks that are accepted from other internet users is important. Computer to computer viruses are often transferred by infected disks, disks that have been in other computers should not be used. Files from sites that have not been given security clearance by your anti-virus software should not be opened. Unsolicited emails or email attachments could expose a computer or computer system to a virus?
In the early days of the Internet there was no commercial activity that has now changed with the Internet having annual transactions amounting to hundreds of billions of Dollars. It is this gross commercialisation of the Internet that has driven businesses to develop new technologies for gathering information about consumers. Spyware is specially designed to collect information about computer users, spyware can act in many different ways from pop-up advertisements to redirecting search engine results to paid advertisements, and spyware can also be used to steal advertising revenue from Internet users using affiliate advertisements such as Google ads.
Trojans can appear to be genuine on line correspondence from any number of sources including and in particular financial institutions, however; Trojans are simply used to collect your personal and financial information. This information is then offered for sale on black market web-sites, such is the success of such attacks that Symantec (http://www.symantec.com/security_response/index.jsp) report that in the period April – June 2010 one-thousand credit card details could be purchased on-line for $1,500 while individual personal bank account details could be bought for as little as $10. Trojans can be created by anyone who is prepared to watch a three minute video on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX4P-KS-j6c). It is also worth noting that anyone dealing with confidential information on line may have to understand clearly how the Data Protection Act applies to their business dealings on line.
In order for fraudsters to access sensitive information such as personal and financial information relating to internet users they use a method called phishing. Phishing is most often presented by way of email and instant messaging, unsuspecting users are requested to place their information on a web-site that looks exactly the same as the genuine site, and this could be a banking site. Phishing is only possible as the fraudsters are able to exploit weak web security technologies. This week (end 3rd June 2011) Irish bank AIB was subject to such an attack.
The financial services sector is the most commonly attacked sector as it is the most likely to yield information that could deliver financial gain for the fraudsters. Such is the extent of phishing on the net that Governments have been forced to introduce legislation to address such criminality, internet providers are using training, public awareness and new and updated security measures.
Virus attacks can cause inconvenience to individual users and can collectively cost businesses hundreds of millions per annum. There is free anti-virus software on the net such as Anti-Virus-Guard AVG. For example filtering software can be used to block spam mail or other unidentified mail. Filtering systems can also be used to block access to certain sites such as pornography.
Filtering software and the Firewall
A firewall blocks unauthorised access while allowing authorised communication. It is a device or set of devices that is configured to permit or deny network transmissions based upon a set of rules or other criteria. Both hardware and software packages are available for installing firewalls and a combination of both can be used. Firewalls are used to protect private computer networks from unauthorised internet access, but are specially used for intranets. The corporate firewall keeps threats out and sensitive information in.
There are several types of firewall techniques, a proxy server intercepts all messages entering and leaving the network, the proxy server hides the true network address. Packet filter accepts or rejects packages passing through the network. Application gateway applies security mechanisms to specific applications, such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Telnet servers. This is very effective, but can impose performance degradation.
Circuit level gateway applies security mechanism when a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) or User Datagram Protocol (UDP) connection is established once the connection has been made, packets can flow between the hosts without further checking.
Can be used to maintain confidentiality on the internet, messages, documents and so forth can be sent by way of encryption the sender holds the key to the encrypted message and the receiver holds the public key code and deciphers the message. A simple form of encryption would be email, email can only be opened by the receiver opening/accessing his/her email password. The Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) system can be used to send on line communication confidentially. In order for PGP to be successful it combines symmetric-key encryption and public-key encryption. Any message can be encrypted using a symmetric encryption algorithm, which requires a symmetric key. The symmetric key is only used for one session of communication and is then disposed of. This one use key is protected by encrypting it with the receiver's public key thus ensuring that only the receiver can decrypt the session key. The encrypted message along with the encrypted session key is sent to the recipient, this on-line communication does not guarantee against security breaches but it does improve security.
Digital signatures are used to verify identity on the internet. Each user can improve their security by having a digital signature; a digital signature is based on a mathematical code in order to protect the user from privacy or security breach, the user and receiver can have greater confidence that their message is secure. When a recipient receives a message with a valid digital signature the receiver can have a high level of certainty that the message is genuine and can open the message with confidence. A digital signature is equivalent to a seal on a private message; it is a confirmation that the sender and receiver both understand their obligations in relation to the communication between them. Digital signatures are very common in e-Business and e-Commerce digital signatures are more secure than the standard generic electronic signature. It is worth noting that digital signatures have been recognised in common law since the 19th Century with telegraph, and faxed signatures since the 1980s. The digital signature has a legal currency in contract law in common law countries.
The purpose and potential risk associated with cookies
A cookie commonly known as Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), web cookie, browser cookie is a piece of code stored by an Internet user’s web browser. Cookies can be used for storing site preferences, authentication, shopping cart details, and the code identifier for a server based session, in reality a cookie can be used to collect any information that can be achieved by storing text data.
A cookie can be encrypted for information privacy and data security. Cookies are not viruses but they can be used as spyware. Java script can be used to read and write cookie files (Mc Grath, M. 2009, p.8). When Internet users request information by clicking a link that requires the down loading of web pages, the server will identify the IP address of the computer running the browser or proxy. The server can track this information whether or not cookies are used (http://www.bitdefender.co.uk).
Anti-virus software and common-sense
Sometimes Internet users can unwittingly send viruses by way of email and email attachments, if something appears requesting to ‘check this’ or ‘watch this’ caution must be applied. Antivirus hardware and software will help protect against viruses and make it safer to download files; however, there is no anti-virus that offers 100% protection from attack. A recent interview with a computer technician at PC World exposed the fact that social networking sites such as Facebook are now a common place where Internet users can pick up viruses and these viruses can wipe a computer clean in a matter of seconds once it enters the computer hard-drive.
In the event that a computer or computer system gets infected with a virus, the Internet user should go to a virus scan manufactures website and avail of any anti-virus updates that are free to download, run this up date, while the update may not be able to eliminate the virus it may be able to give it a name and then expert advice on how to eliminate the threat can be sought. It may be as easy as Googling a virus name and downloading software that will eradicate the threat. Follow up with a virus scan is important just to make sure that the threat has been eliminated. Remembering the extension names that pose the most serious of threats to a computer or computer system is important, do not open attachments that end in .js, .vbs as ordinary internet users would not normally have any reason to open such files, if you think it is unsafe then it probably is unsafe.
The Internet is not just a source of threat to Internet users and providers but is also a place where cures can be found for many of the threats facing Internet users and providers, this short video which if free to watch on-line will teach any Internet user how to deal with a virus
(http://techus.org/2010/08/how-to-remove … r-computer trojanmalwareadwareworms/).
The need to preserve personal privacy when using the internet
Privacy is, ‘The quality or condition of being secluded from the presence or view of others’ (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/privacy). A number of experts within the field of Internet security, confidentiality and privacy believe that privacy does not exist, Steve Rambam says, ‘Privacy is dead-get over it’ (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid … 384528624#) Steve Rambam is a private investigator specialising in internet privacy cases. On the other hand in his essay, ‘The value of privacy’ security expert Bruce Schneier says, ‘Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance’.
Social Networking Facebook
The need to preserve personal privacy when using the internet is highlighted with the growth in social networking sites such as Facebook which has 500 million registered users in 2010, with projected targets of 1 Billion registered users by the end of 2011. Internet users are using social networking sites such as Facebook to compartmentalise their daily lives, they place pictures of family members, details of family events, even addresses of family and friends. This they do in the belief that nobody can access their personal information only those who are given access by way of the ‘accept as a friend’ button on the tool bar. The reality is that if there is information published on the Internet someone can access it.
Internet users are regularly exposed to horror stories about how the security, confidentiality and privacy of internet users has been breached, in a recent FBI prosecution it was shown that a person with limited computer knowledge was able to watch a demonstrational video on the net and then take complete control of one-hundred PCs: (www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2010/november/ … of-victims) this type of criminality brings the question of internet privacy and security into stark focus. However, it is not only deliberate criminality that can lead to breaches of privacy and personal security, in 2007 in Lane vs Facebook the American Courts agreed that Facebook users had their privacy breached when Facebook put in place a system known as Beacon without the knowledge of Facebook users.
The Beacon system had agreements in place with on line retailers which meant that if a Facebook member purchased something on line, that purchase would appear on the Facebook sites of all friends connected to the purchaser. Lane had purchased a diamond ring for his wife for Christmas and without his knowledge that information was placed by Beacon on the Facebook sites of Lane’s friends. As a result of Lane vs Facebook and other cases that followed from that case, Facebook was forced to improve security and privacy for its users (http://dockets.justia.com/docket/califo … 45/206085/).
Conclusions and Recommendations
This hub has shown that with the global expanse of the Internet and Internet usage security, confidentiality and privacy have become a major concern for Internet users and providers. It is clear that both Internet users and providers can take some simple steps towards improving Internet security, confidentiality and privacy. This hub has explained what the Internet is and its potential for growth in 2011/12. The actual process of clicking on an Internet link and receiving information as a result of that click has been explained in simple terms. The level of threat has clearly been set out using up to date security reports from Symantec. Malware, Trojans, phishing and other security, confidentiality and privacy concerns have been examined.
This hub has investigated the role of filtering software and in particular the firewall for helping to improve Internet security, confidentiality and privacy. Encryption has been highlighted as a particular security measure for financial institutions and individual Internet users. Digital signatures have also been explained as a means for improving Internet security and privacy, offering users added security protection.
Cookies have been explained both in terms of their usefulness as information gatherers for e-Business and e-Commerce and their possible misuse as spyware. Anti-virus software and common-sense have been offered as the very least that Internet users and providers must use in order to improve their privacy, security and confidentiality on line. The need to preserve personal privacy, security and confidentiality has been examined and in particular social networking site Facebook has been investigated in terms of privacy, security and confidentiality for both Internet users and service providers.
1. This hub highly recommends that an international group of cyber experts be established in order to regularly flag risks associated with security, confidentiality and privacy on the Internet to users and service providers.
2. This hub highly recommends that International governments produce joined up legislation in relation to Internet security, confidentiality and privacy, without infringing on the right of individuals to have freedom of expression and to share information.
3. This hub recommends that Internet users and service providers regularly remove cookies from their system.
4. This hub recommends that Internet users and service providers use all privacy settings available and also use encryption and digital signatures where possible.
5. Individual computers and computer systems must have anti-virus software and hardware installed on their computers.
6. Internet users and service providers must scan their computer or computer system for viruses on a regular basis, weekly or daily where possible.
7. This hub recommends that Internet users should be cautious in relation to what information they place on social networking sites and that they close down their computer on a regular basis to prevent penetration of their computer or system, as highlighted by the FBI Sextortion case in this report.
8. This hub recommends that parents who allow their children to use the Internet, put in place filtering software to block access to pornography and so forth, however, parental guidance and education should be applied at all times.
9. Internet users and service providers must be fully compliant with those aspects of the Data Protection Act that apply to their e-Business or e-Commerce activity on-line.
10. Internet users must apply common-sense and good house-keeping when it comes to dealing with spam, unsolicited emails, and email attachments.
11. Internet service providers must constantly up date and inform Internet users of any threats being posed at any given time.
12. There must be a transparent and seamless system of communication between Internet providers and users.
13. Terms such as spyware, malware and phishing must become the common language of Internet users and service providers, so that they can be constantly vigilant for such threats.
14. People using the Internet need to be treated with respect and not simply as consumers to be exploited. There must never be covert scanning of user’s privacy for commercial or criminal gain, as highlighted in Lane vs Facebook.
15. Social networking sites have become the hunting ground of cyber criminals both in terms of financial fraud and other unsavoury activity as shown by the FBI’s Sextortion case described in this report, international police agencies must continue to co-operate in order to prosecute criminals, while ensuring the privacy and security of those users who do not engage in criminal acts.
16. All efforts should be made to ensure that the Internet remains a place of free expression of ideas and thoughts, with Internet users understanding their role in terms of responsibilities to other Internet users and service providers.
17. It is important that cyber-crimes are set in the context of the almost two Billion Internet users, and that these crimes are not used or exploited by those in power to put in place their own invasions of privacy, security and confidentiality in relation to Internet users and service providers.
18. Co-operation between Internet service providers and users in terms of a universally recognised code of good conduct, and a constant stream of education and training for Internet users and providers, financing of this education and training to be provided by those who make the greatest financial gain from the Internet such as software/hardware providers and on line businesses and advertisers.
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