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Avast’s Ondrej Vlcek: 2016 The Year Hackers Recognised The Potential Of IoT

Unless you work in the line of cyber security, the chances are that you don’t really think about it. It’s understandable. It’s a very complex field that is constantly changing. Ondrej Vlcek, CTO of Avast, captures it best in their company slogan. He says, “Our mission is to take care of your safety and security online because you have better things to do.” Nevertheless, it is a very important topic that people need to at least be aware of. Cyber security threats are no longer just malicious attacks that render your computer useless. The threats are varied in just about every manner possible. Vlcek kindly took some time to talk to VR Zone about these threats, and what needs to be done.

Avast and the issue of IoT

Image courtesy: Avast

Vlcek is very proud of the work that Avast has done since its inception in 1988. Just last year the company bought over AVG, a name that should be very familiar to every internet user. Now, the company services 413 million users worldwide. For comparison, that’s almost a hundred million more than concurrent Twitter users. From this wide next, Avast has been able to see what blind spots in security exist in Singapore.

“In the case of devices connected to the internet, 18.3% of smart devices in Singapore are vulnerable to attacks,” Vlcek says. This includes 15.4% of webcams and 15% of Printers. Webcams should immediately be someone everyone should pay attention to, as most new laptops have a built-in webcam. However, you might be thinking that having a vulnerable printer isn’t such a big deal. Beyond that, it’s likely that you’re not too worried about any other smart device being hacked. Vlcek says that everything that is considered a smart device is vulnerable, from baby monitors to coffee machines to fridges. Creepy it definitely is, but why should you be concerned?

Vlcek explains that it’s not the direct impact these hackers can have on you that you should worry about. “2016 was the first time that Hackers were able to utilise the IoT,” he explains. “Mirai (malware), hijacked a million IoT devices to commit a DDOS attack on the internet.” This attack, Vlcek says, brought down big-name sites like Amazon for at least half an hour. This was not done by the usually hacked computers either but by connected devices. Vlcek explains that most hardware manufacturers might have decades of experience building fridges or TVs, but none with computing. This means that the most basic tenants of cyber security are not followed.

The changing nature of Malware and the solution

IoT devices being hacked is just one point in the constantly changing security landscape. Vlcek also touched on the new menace of Ransomware, which Avast usually tracks down to Russia or Ukraine. This virus targets important information on your PC locks it away from the user and then demands a payment. However, there is also another version which targets sensitive information like bank details or photos and threatens to publish it online, again for a ransom. Vlcek estimates that about a billion American dollars were lost just in 2016 to these attacks.

Otherwise, the main security threat is outdated software. Vlcek says that Adobe is the worst offender here, especially with Java. Since many users either don’t notice or deliberately ignore update requests, these bits of software are very vulnerable to attacks. Vlcek says that Avast and AVG have a solution built into their latest antivirus builds which automate these updates even for other software. This is as good a reason as any to start using their software.

Otherwise, Vlcek says that two main changes need to happen. First of all, Vlcek made it very clear that manufacturers need to up their game in terms of security and encryption. For him, the lack of security is just not acceptable. Secondly, greater awareness needs to be raised among consumers about these threats. When asked how to do this without causing panic, he admits that this isn’t a simple task. Aside from online videos and entertainment, Vlcek says they have a very active social media team, and even include slightly humorous tags on certain emails sent out to simulate a malicious link.

Main takeaway here is that cyber security is a bigger issue than ever before. If you want to try out Avast or AVG, you can get a free basic version of either easily enough.

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