UH IT Security Expert Offers Advice in Light of Hacking Arrests

UH IT Security Expert Offers Advice in Light of Hacking Arrests

On the same day five Chinese military officials were indicted by a U.S. grand jury, 90 people were arrested in 19 countries as part of an international crackdown by the FBI on computer hacking. More than 500,000 people worldwide have been prey to computer snooping by hackers using malware such as Blackshades.

Mary Dickerson is the executive director of IT security and the chief information security officer at the University of Houston. Dickerson recently shared her insight on these cases.

Q. Give us your perspective on the Chinese hacking case … it seems significant.

It is significant, but more because of how law enforcement agencies are handling it.  Unfortunately, the hacking incidents themselves are not that uncommon.

Q. What are the challenges of protecting data against hacking and, in the case of the Chinese officials, alleged cyber espionage. It would seem to be a difficult task to stay ahead of the hackers.

Yes.  It is difficult to stay ahead of the hackers. Many information security professionals working together with law enforcement spend considerable effort trying to protect the nation against cyber threats. 

Q. Blackshades malware has been referenced in the news. What can you tell us about how malware works? 

Most hackers are successful these days by tricking users into allowing them to compromise their computers.  They accomplish this through phishing emails that encourage users to willingly provide their account credentials or through malicious websites that when accessed download malware to the user's computers.

Q. The Chinese indictment and the malware bust are garnering international attention. Is there a lesson we can all take from this in terms of taking steps to protect your data or intellectual property? Is there a larger lesson for us all?

There are two key lessons here.  First, it is important that you understand the value of your information and protect it accordingly.  For business owners, it can include customer data, financial information or intellectual property.  And everyone has personal information that, if accessed, could lead to identity theft.  No matter who you are, a hacker somewhere is interested in stealing information from you.

Second, be skeptical when online.  Hackers will try many different ways to trick you.  Don't respond to emails that ask you for personal information.  Don't click on links in email messages. Type Internet addresses directly into your browser.  Verify that any email you receive is legitimate before opening attachments. And, always keep the software on your computers and mobile devices fully up to date to protect against malware threats. 

As the media continues to follow the developments in this story, Mary Dickerson is available to discuss IT security issues. To schedule an interview with Dickerson or the UH law experts availabel to discuss the Chinese hacking case, please contact the University of Houston media relations team.