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BCS: Learn about the cyber past to protect yourself in the future

Cyber sector news

10:00 Monday, 30 August 2021

UK Cyber Security Council

In a May 2021 interview, Martin Cooper of the British Computer Society (BCS) heard from Nottingham University Professor of Cybersecurity Steven Furnell about the importance of looking back to the past in order to learn more about cyber threats today.

Prof. Furnell believes that there is a great deal to learn about cyber attacks of the past. He cited a number of examples of early security attacks, including: the Morris Worm1, which was written and released by a US student in 1988 and was the first of its kind in the world; the AIDS Trojan2, a 1989 example of what we now call ransomware; and boot sector viruses.

Prof. Furnell asserted that cyber criminals today have similar opportunities as their historical peers, because organisations continue to run systems with known vulnerabilities that could have been closed down (generally through patching) but have not been. As he noted: Robert Tappan Morris, author of the Morris Worm: “… tried to exploit three known areas of vulnerability and found that they were ripe for subversion. It worked very successfully”.

During the interview, Prof. Furnell talked of cyber threats in a number of areas. He noted, for example, that criminals target the most popular platforms because these present, by definition, the greatest number of potential targets. He also opined that the manufacturers of hardware – particularly consumer hardware such as internet-connectable “smart TVs” should be more proactive and informative when it comes to security. He said that the consumers of such goods should be supported much more effectively by the manufacturers: “There’s more that should - and can - be done to make technology usable for people and to make it apparent that [security] is a consideration”.