Cyberattacks likely to increase as connectivity grows

Cyberattacks are occurring thick and fast as the world becomes more connected and the rewards greater.
According to a North-West University (NWU) academic, the possible rewards for cyberattackers will continue to increase, as more aspects of our everyday lives become interwoven and reliant on online interaction.

Prof Wian Erlank from the Faculty of Law says he keeps a watch on cybersecurity developments to understand how these affect other areas of law on which he conducts research.

“I have examined numerous LLM and LLD theses and dissertations on the topic and had a number of my own students who specifically wrote about the topic. Since it is an area that sees constant technological change, research into the area remains exceptionally important,” he says.

How safe are organisations against cyberattacks?

Prof Erlank is of the opinion that recent reports of so-called “imminent danger” regarding cyberattacks are misleading.

“In fact, cyberattacks have been a part of internet culture from the very beginning. It is true that incidences are increasing in scope and frequency, but this is due to the concomitant increase in the number of connected devices and people and the large-scale adoption of interconnectivity and digitalisation across the world.”

How can organisations navigate this dilemma?

Prof Erlank notes that cyberattacks happen every day, even when people do not notice them. These can take various forms, from a basic – but still devastating – distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against a company's servers to something as insidious as a ransomware attack against a hospital.

“The basic things that organisations should focus on are keeping up with industry standards for cybersecurity and software updates, avoiding using pirated software and making staff aware of social engineering tactics.

“Even if the IT systems are bulletproof, humans are more often than not the easiest way into a company's infrastructure. If possible, get a trustworthy IT company or cybersecurity provider to audit the cybersecurity of the company every year and adhere to the recommendations,” he advises.

Read more about cyber-related challenges in the past year.

But what do cybercriminals get in return?

According to Prof Erlank, the obvious reason for cyberattacks would be for gain or profit. However, he adds, “the truth is that many cyberattacks are not motivated by private profit, but by other things such as economic sabotage, anarchism, boredom, political agendas and full-scale cyberwarfare, to name just a few. For a quick glimpse into what drives cyberattacks, one only need to take a look at the various types of hackers.”

Now is not the time for organisations to rest on their laurels, as, according to Prof Erlank, no system or institution is impervious to attack, nor impenetrable. Even the most secure systems can be breached, hacked or compromised.

What of the NWU, which houses crucial information?

Despite the risks out there, he says he believes the NWU has a very robust cybersecurity system and a backup system that can be used if need be.

“I would also commend the NWU’s IT department with their ongoing user training on cybersecurity matters. They tend to keep training short and to the point. It does not help to overwhelm staff with overly onerous security measures. For example, it has been shown that forcing staff to change their passwords too much or use overly complex passwords actually reduces the level of security, since people then tend to write down their passwords and keep them on or near their computers and desks!”

Those interested in cybersecurity and wanting to keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry should visit this invaluable site for cybersecurity research. 

Prof Wian Erlank

Prof Wian Erlank.

Submitted on Tue, 03/29/2022 - 11:14