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Snowden fallout: Predictions for Internet users in 2014

December 16, 2013 13:01 IST

Snowden fallout: Predictions for Internet users in 2014

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Vicky Nanjappa


The fallout of revelations made by National Security Agency’s whistleblower Edward Snowden has been huge, says Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa.

In 2014, as a result of Edward Snowden’s story, the primary objective of Internet and mobile users in the world would be to keep their online life under the wraps. Kaspersky Lab, which had detected the deadly Stuxnet worm, says much of what they have seen in their crystal ball is related to the fallout from Snowden’s revelations.

Here are some predictions for the year 2014:

Cyber criminals will look to target your privacy. After the Snowden scandal of 2013, people are determined to keep their private life under wraps despite the attentions of intelligence agencies around the world. That means protecting the information stored on their computers and devices and ensuring their online behaviour remains confidential. This will lead to greater popularity for virtual private networks and services that provide anonymity, such as Tor, as well as increased demand for local encryption tools.

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Image: A magnifying glass is held in front of a computer screen in this picture illustration taken in Berlin, Germany.
Photographs: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

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In 2014, experts expect cyber criminals to continue developing tools to steal cash - directly or indirectly. To plunder pockets directly, the fraudsters will further refine their tools designed to access the bank accounts of mobile-phone owners (mobile phishing, banking Trojans).

Mobile botnets will be bought and sold and will also be used to distribute malicious attachments on behalf of third parties. To support indirect thefts, it is likely that we will see more sophisticated versions of Trojans that illegally encrypt data on mobile devices, prevent access to photos, contacts and correspondence until a decryption fee is handed over. Android-based smartphones will no doubt be the first to be targeted.

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Image: An illustration picture shows a projection of binary code on a man holding a laptop computer in an office in Warsaw, Poland.
Photographs: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
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Expect considerable growth in the number of attacks targeting Bitcoin users’ wallets, Bitcoin pools and stock exchanges. A number of popular Internet services have already announced the implementation of additional measures to protect user data, for example, encryption of all data transmitted between their own servers. Implementing more sophisticated protection measures will continue, and is likely to become a key factor when users choose between rival web services.

Hackers are targeting cloud service employees, seeing them as the weakest link in the security chain. A successful attack here could hand cyber criminals the keys to huge volumes of data. In addition to data theft attackers may be interested in deleting or modifying information - in some cases manipulated misinformation could be worth even more to those who commission the attacks. This is an on-going trend.

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Image: A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw, Poland.
Photographs: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

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The theft of popular product sources (gaming industry, mobile apps developers, etc) gives attackers an excellent opportunity to find vulnerabilities in the products and then to use them for their own fraudulent purposes. In addition, if cyber criminals have access to the victim’s repositories, they can modify the program source code and embed backdoors into it.

Snowden’s leaks have demonstrated that one of the goals of cyber espionage between states is to provide economic aid to “friendly” companies. This factor has broken down ethical barriers that initially restrained business from using unconventional methods to compete with their rivals. In the new realities of cyberspace, businesses are contemplating the possibility of conducting this kind of activity for themselves.

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Image: A sign is pictured in the hallway of the Microsoft Cybercrime Center, the headquarters of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, in Redmond, Washington.
Photographs: Jason Redmond/Reuters
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Companies will employ cyber-mercenaries, organised groups of qualified hackers who can offer bespoke cyber-espionage services.

“The Internet has begun to break up into national segments. Snowden’s revelations have intensified the demand for rules prohibiting the use of foreign services. Individual countries are no longer willing to let a single byte of information out of their networks. These aspirations will grow ever stronger and legislative restrictions will inevitably transform into technical prohibitions. The next step will most likely be attempts to limit foreign access to data inside a country. As this trend develops further it may lead at some point to the collapse of the current Internet, which will break into dozens of national networks. The shadowy Darknet then will be the only truly worldwide web”, says Alexander Gostev, Chief Security Expert, Global Research and Analysis Team.

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Image: A sign is pictured in the hallway of the Microsoft Cybercrime Center, the headquarters of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, in Redmond, Washington.
Photographs: Jason Redmond/Reuters

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Several countries have adopted or are planning to adopt legislation prohibiting the use of foreign services. In November, Germany announced that all communications between the German authorities would be fully locked within the country. Brazil has announced plans to build an alternative Internet channel so as not to use the one that goes through Florida, the United States.


Image: A malware lab is pictured inside the Microsoft Cybercrime Center, the headquarters of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, in Redmond, Washington.
Photographs: Jason Redmond/Reuters

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