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Cyber security threats for 2017 – what to worry about

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Cyber security experts fear the Mirai botnet, which took down several high profile websites last year using hacked Internet of Things devices, has not reached its full devastating potential yet and is likely to wreak more havoc on the internet in 2017.

Cyber security researcher Ray Walsh of says Mirai could possibly cause global internet outages lasting up to 24 hours unless users and the industry start paying more attention to security of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, which Mirai targets.

“People need urgently to update their IoT products with stronger passwords and download security patches regularly,” Walsh said. “Only once customers take strong and deliberate actions to protect themselves will these cyber-attackers be stopped in their tracks.”

The October hack, which took down websites including Twitter, Reddit, Amazon, Netflix and Spotify via a denial-of-service attack on US domain name registration service provider Dyn, was carried out through millions of hijacked web cameras and other connected devices such as thermostats and baby monitors.

Experts have been talking for years about the lack of cyber-protectedness of IoT technology. The risks are getting more pronounced as the technology spreads. Customers can already purchase a wide range of connected home appliances including lights, fridges and kettles, most of which can’t be patched for vulnerabilities and use default passwords set in the factories.

The code for Mirai, which hijacks such devices and makes them work in sync as part of powerful botnet, was publicly released in October 2016. A considerable increase in denial-of-service attacks has been observed since then.

It is not only the internet itself that is at risk of Mirai. Hackers can target infrastructure such as power plants or utilities but also affect financial markets.

Walsh also warned that rise of artificial intelligence will present another major cyber-security risk in the not so distant future. Some companies, for example BT Americas, are reportedly already using neural network simulations to create powerful hacking tools that mimic human problem-solving skills. Walsh said it's only likely that cyber gangs and government-funded hackers will eventually start experimenting with such approaches. Artificial intelligence is thus likely to become an important weapon in future cyber warfare.

Walsh also expects that hackers in 2017 might want to fight against government attempts to control the spread of fake news. As retaliation against governments imposing controls over media, widespread attacks on  mainstream news websites can be expected.

Despite its recent struggles, Walsh foresees Bitcoin growing stronger. The crypto-currency lost some 20 per cent of its value over the past week after a record-breaking year, which saw its value skyrocket by 125 per cent. The fastest growing currency in the world by far, the value of one bitcoin started 2016 at $400. By the end of that year, it had reached more than $900. Walsh believes that investors are going to increasingly turn to Bitcoin in the upcoming year.

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