Cyber-Wars … Cyber-Heists … Cyber-Terror

Jon Markman

A quick note here from the Money and Markets team: Our own Jon Markman has a great offer coming down the pike for his Pivotal Point Trader service. So, keep your eyes peeled for it in the days ahead. In the meantime, instead of our normal Saturday digest, here’s an interesting piece on threats from the Internet by Jon that we think you’ll enjoy. Have a great weekend!

Banks have a big problem. Hackers are targeting their networks and sucking out money all over the globe.

This week, cybersecurity experts at Kaspersky Lab announced that 140 banks have been infected by malware derived from Stuxnet, a sophisticated, almost invisible computer worm.

Cyber-thieves are using the malicious code to commandeer systems that control the banks’ networks of automated teller machines. Banks never see the threat until the cash goes missing.

“What’s interesting here is that these attacks are ongoing globally against banks themselves,” Kaspersky Lab expert Kurt Baumgartner told the online publication, Ars Technica. “The banks have not been adequately prepared in many cases to deal with this.”

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It’s not hard to understand why. The original Stuxnet code was reportedly created by state-sponsored U.S. and Israeli cyber-agencies to thwart the Iranian nuclear program. It creates no system files and lives entirely in computer memory, so it’s easily spread by legitimate system tools.

The fact that hackers have been able to mimic this subtly deceptive code so easily speaks to the velocity of information in the New Gilded Age. It also illuminates the weaknesses. Everything is interconnected.

Bank of America has begun experimenting with teller-less banks that only offer ATMs. Meanwhile, hackers have begun targeting ATM networks.

Security, unfortunately, is only as strong the weakest link. And there are a lot of weak links.

In 2016, hackers exploited a security flaw in inexpensive webcams, DVRs and other connected things. They rounded up these devices and pointed all of them at Dyn Inc., a key Internet services company, demanding bandwidth.

Then, one by one, big parts of the Internet started going dark. Consumers were miffed. Security chieftains freaked out.

Sure, this time it was Netflix, Twitter, Spotify and parts of Amazon. Next time, who knows? Maybe it might be part of the power grid. Maybe a key telecommunications hub.

The core systems that keep the Internet running are a big part of the New Gilded Age. They have also been under attack for a while.

Bruce Schneier is the chief technology officer at Resilient Systems, an IBM company. He’s also one of the leading cybersecurity experts in the U.S., and a frequent guest on Capitol Hill to provide insight. He believes complex and targeted attacks are the work of foreign nations.

“It feels like a nation’s military cyber-command trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar,” warns Schneier. “It reminds me of the U.S.’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.”

That should sound familiar. Intelligence agencies say Russian hackers meddled in the recent U.S. presidential election.

Washington politicians rarely agree. Security is different. Mix in the Russians, computers and terrorism and suddenly pols from both sides of the aisle want to get tough.

Strategic consultants at the TIS Group note: “New, bipartisan efforts to deter and defend against cyberattacks led by John McCain (R) and Chuck Schumer (D) along with Lindsay Graham (R) and Jack Reed (D) indicate widespread agreement on the importance of information technology superiority. The spending in these areas will be stupendous.”

According to the research firm Gartner, the market for cybersecurity software and services is now about $75 billion. It expects the market will reach $170 billion by 2020.

Defense contractors have been surprisingly adept in the New Gilded Age. They have always been major players in cybersecurity. Entire clandestine units have existed for decades.

They have intercepted foreign intelligence. They have even set back nuclear programs, allegedly.

They’re playing an important new role in the physical world, too. They are leading the push toward digital, away from analog. That allows them to bring the whiz-bang algorithmic modeling developed for military unmanned aerial vehicle programs to American cities.

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Fancy cameras are already being married to bespoke software packages and fitted into fleets of low-flying aircraft. It all sounds very creepy. Imagine an eye-in-the-sky recording the public movements of every man, woman and child?

Now imagine what those eyes could do to crime rates and terrorism. Imagine how appealing that would be in the current political climate of angst and fear. We may even welcome more eyes looking for bad guys.

That would be full circle from the bad guys using our own webcams as weapons. It’s all part of the challenges created by the interconnected world of the New Gilded Age. It empowers big ideas —  even from bad actors.

If investors want to take full advantage of these big ideas, they need the insights of veteran tech-watchers, like those I provide to the members of my services, Tech Trend Trader and Pivotal Point Trader.

One thing I can tell you: Protecting commerce and the citizenry is already a huge business. In the future, it’s going to be more important, bigger than ever.

Best wishes,

Jon Markman

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