Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Students find cyber attacks concerning

Krista James thought she was doing her job for her high school journalism class by interviewing a Vietnam veteran. She never thought the military email address she used to contact her source would end up hacking her computer.

“The U.S. Armed Forces sent me two emails informing me that my email had threatening information,” James said. “Of course my first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, the Army’s going to come and find me.’”

The Army didn’t come for James, but a savvy hacker from Bolivia had wormed his way into her computer and started spamming contacts in James’ account.

“I knew that I had been hacked when my father and former high school teacher asked me why I sent them emails about African diet pills,” James said. “Kind of awkward to say the least.”

Since then, James, now a University of Alabama freshman, said the only thing she changed after being hacked was her password. She also created a junk folder, into which she puts suspicious emails.

“I never open that folder anymore,” James said. “I like to believe that upgrading to a Mac from a PC helps my email stay protected, but I’ll never really know for sure.”

James’ story is all too common today in the cyber world. But hacking isn’t the only computer virus Internet users should be wary of.

Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, associate professor of criminal justice at the University, said professionals often hotly contest the definition of cyber crime because there are so many different types.

“What we do know is that a majority of crimes are malware, so they’re viruses basically,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “Malware, or malicious software, is the idea that you have software with a bad intent to it.”

Seigfried-Spellar said malware can affect both private computers as well as the computers of large corporations and the federal government.

“Cybercrime and computer crime used to be separate, but now everything has Internet,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “Most people think of traditional computers – desktops and laptops – that get viruses, but now computers are in cellphones, too.”

In an effort to combat cybercrime, especially in the federal sphere, President Barack Obama issued an executive order in February offering solutions to cybercrime.

Marshall McBride, a member of the Cyber Technology Team at the Space & Missile Defense Future Warfare Center in Huntsville, Ala., said he is encouraged by Obama’s order.

“It takes a small number of people with bad intentions to keep hundreds of system and network administrators trying to resurrect their networks,” McBride said. “If someone’s good enough and focused enough on you as a target, you’re going to get hit.”

McBride said among the protections Obama put in place were prevention and detection systems of unusual Internet traffic, research and development methods for cyber crime and coordination efforts among government bodies.

“Because the intelligence community doesn’t get along well, they don’t share the information,” McBride said. “This leads to redundant efforts relating to security issues on the part of the government, and it’s wasteful.”

McBride said the biggest threat to federal security is the insider threat, or someone who has been trusted with information and chooses to use it against a company or government body.

“People are just not educated enough, or they’ve been given improper or outdated instruction on cyber security,” McBride said. “Some people say, ‘I’ve never been hacked,’ and in truth all that really means is they may not have known they were hacked.”

The most common cyber security problem for the feds may be hacking, but another computer-related issue plagues college campuses: piracy.

Emily Schmidt, a student of Seigfried-Spellar’s, said at least 80 percent of students engage in piracy of videos, music or other online content. This piracy can lead to breaches in data security.

“We – and our various devices – generate massive amounts of data, and we’re not nearly proactive enough in keeping track of what happens to that information,” Schmidt said. “It can easily fall into the wrong hands and cause a lot of problems.”

Schmidt said she, too, is optimistic about Obama’s order.

“President Obama’s executive order sets out a good framework for improving the state of cyber security in this country,” Schmidt said. “I think the identification of critical infrastructure that may be vulnerable will go a long way toward keeping our citizens safe from cyber-attacks.”

In addition to Obama’s protective measures, Seigfried-Spellar suggested students download anti-virus software to protect their computers.

“The government doesn’t offer any protection to individuals,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “Most of the software, if you want protection, is going to be something you have to buy, like McAfee.”

Schmidt said she prefers an additional approach to protecting personal computers.

“The [cyber crime] issue can be alleviated through education and vigilance,” Schmidt said. “Students should make the effort to find out just how much they’re really sharing. Quite often, just a few tweaks to the settings on your computer or smartphone can save you from revealing a lot more than you meant to.”


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