Almost everyone who travels brings a laptop to keep up productivity and help pass the time while on the road, and the fact that almost everyone loitering at these locations will soon be on their way to a distant geographic location, means the malware can spread world-wide without even using the World Wide Web, thereby reducing the chances of the perpetrators being caught through an Internet service provider (ISP), or the bot being contained. To better understand what is happening, try to think of it as a virus that jumps directly from machine to machine, and thrives without being transmitted over the Web. You may think your data is secured because you encrypt its transmission or even the data as it resides on the hard drive, but a botnet that operates in this way can just as easily read your keystrokes and provide a hacker with everything from bank account numbers, to usernames and passwords, along with other personally identifying information that you may type into the keyboard.
After I gave these two doctors the lowdown on why they should avoid these types of networks, I again started wondering … Why isn’t there any sort of public awareness of these types of cyber-crimes? These two gentlemen appeared genuinely shocked that it could be possible that each of those occurrences of “free public WI-FI” had been nothing more than a laptop infected by malware, unwittingly attempting to create ad-hoc connections with other users. How would they know about the basic information security faux pas that I have come to consider as simple common sense? Whose responsibility is it to make the general public aware of these types of threats?
Much of the work I have done in the past few years has related to protecting transit riders from crime, through the implementation of physical systems and traditional operational strategies and tactics. Until recently, the major concerns at these types of facilities have consisted mainly of screening passengers, detecting possible suspicious behavior or devices, monitoring controlled points and providing an “eye in the sky” for investigators to utilize in real-time, as well as forensically; in order to deter and investigate crimes of a physical nature, such as theft, violence or indecent behavior.
Many riders are consciously aware of the physical risks associated with travel; transportation centers provide a hub for nefarious individuals to discretely monitor and determine their potential victims. Transportation infrastructure and operational centers are well known as popular choices for terrorist targets as they provide a way for people to be attacked in a concentrated group, while instilling fear among those who rely on mass transit. The same attributes that makes these facilities attractive to conventional or kinetic criminals, also makes them attractive to cyber-criminals, especially considering the consistent connectivity levels of the average traveller.
The systems that these organizations have been focusing on; the ones the U.S. government has given them grants to implement, were designed to detect crime that is visible and tangible, not the crimes that can occur over a data stream, or via the theft of digitized personal data. This focus on detecting physical security breaches and crime directly related to drugs, terrorism, violence and sex; has left significant gaps in the overall operational involvement of the typical security and IT department in securing the average rider’s data. There are a few important questions that should be asked of those who manage security at these highly susceptible organizations:
- Should the transit organizations be responsible for developing programs to protect riders from information security threats while in the transit system?
- What is the difference between a rider and passenger who has had their data stolen or their purse stolen? There are clear controls and processes in place to warn people about physical crime. They are warned to protect and guard their valuables, and police officers are on duty to respond to thefts that occur at transit centers, airports, park-and-rides, etc … Where are the signs warning users not to fall prey to cybercrime? Considering most victims of cybercrime do not realize they have been victimized for a considerable amount of time, who will be responsible for cyber-enforcement at these known hubs for cybercrime?
- Are these mass transit organizations even aware of these threats? Are they being ignored because of ignorance or a lack of funds to support such a program?
- It is clear that many transit organizations are focused on dissuading terrorism. Considering a huge portion of funding that terrorists use for their operations, along with the illegal documents they use to move in and around the United States are obtained illegally through identity theft, is there not an obligation on the part of these transit organizations and the U.S. government to mitigate this illegal activity at transit centers?