As our society grows more and more interconnected — utilizing innovative new technologies that make life more convenient — we continue to expose ourselves to greater risks of cyberattack.
With the digitization of practically all aspects of our day-to-day lives, from banking to healthcare to government, we must be steadfast in the protection of our personal information to prevent cyber hacks and identity theft.
The number of cyberattacks has drastically increased over the past few years. Consider last week's news that at least 4 million current and former federal employees have had their personal data breached, probably by China.
Or consider that recently the Internal Revenue Service, one of the United States' most archetypal institutions, was breached by what the U.S. government now believes were Russian criminals, exposing the personal information (including Social Security numbers) and tax returns of more than 100,000 Americans. With the simplicity of filing your taxes online now comes the threat of foreign actors and criminals stealing and selling your information as well as your identity. This is a very dangerous and serious problem.
Today's "Internet of Things," a concept describing how we live in a maze of interconnected data networks fed by billions of smart devices, exposes us to great risk. People no longer think twice about engaging in personal banking on their iPhones or sending sensitive documents over email. The growth of these new technologies has outpaced our ability to secure our information. We need our security systems and processes to catch up.
Once reserved for machine-to-machine communication, technology now allows us to make "things" intelligent — from phones to watches to healthcare devices — all gathering data and storing it in a "cloud." Your phone, too, knows where you are, all of the time, and could let someone else know — without your knowledge or consent. For a society so ingrained in privacy and freedoms, we don't seem to mind technology serving as "Big Brother."
Every device, including our vehicles, is susceptible to attack. With the rise of in-car navigation systems and even smarter in-car technology, like GM's "Connected Car Services," we are opening up even more vessels of assault. Soon you'll be seeing your car perform a Vehicle Health Monitor, communicating diagnostics to your dealership and even booking your appointment, all through apps built directly in the dashboard.
Even with just the "basics" in today's new cars — automatic braking, parking and lane assist, keyless entry, Bluetooth and a cellular connection — hackers might be able to transform digital commands into an out-of-control weapon. The automotive industry is working to add more security features to protect against the wireless "hackability" of cars, but in many ways and with many of these innovations, we've put the proverbial cart before the horse.
In a perfect world, the solution would be to reduce our "attack surface" — a fancy term that for many means having fewer devices connected to the Internet. But as we have become over-reliant on technology to complete everyday tasks, we remain vulnerable to the system. Instead of limiting entry points, we're expanding them.
Even the most private of our information, our medical history and data, is being hacked and exploited by nefarious actors. With the rise of wearable and other health technology devices linked to the Internet, now able to transmit data directly to your doctor, millions of individuals' health and financial information is at risk. We no longer live in just an "Internet of Things," but now also in an "Internet of People."
In fact, of all the data valuable to cyber criminals, your health records are their most prized, as medical records and information are more usable and last longer than information swiped from your credit card. In underground criminal marketplaces, individual credit card information is worth $1, while a medical record goes for as much as $50.
Insecure technology poses significant costs on our society, and cyberattacks are most certainly not a victimless crime. A study last year by the McAfee, a security firm that part of Intel Security, estimates that cyber crime and economic espionage costs the world economy more than $445 billion annually, not including the toll identity theft takes individually.
For us consumers, the first thing we must recognize is that the Internet is not going away, that it will continue to grow and that each of us is responsible for how we use our Internet-connected devices.
Secondly, we need to learn about how to best use our Internet devices — be they computers, phones, even cars or refrigerators — so that we can protect ourselves from hackers.
Finally, we must demand that our banks, insurance companies, healthcare providers and everyone who asks for our personal information tell us how they will secure it. The more that consumers demand better cybersecurity the less prone they we will be to hackers.
We live in a brave new world — industry and consumers should be working together to benefit from technological advances, while also protecting our privacy.
Javier Ortiz is a Republican strategist, a principal at Falcon Cyber Investments, and an adviser on public policy and regulations for a Washington, D.C. based global law firm.Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.