By Ellie King
When one thinks of a threat to our nation’s safety; terrorism, global warming and ‘weapons of destruction’ often come to mind. However, with access to virtually anything and everything on the Internet, cyber hacking and cyber espionage have become one of the biggest threats to cyber and national security.
York Science Forum recently held its annual panel discussion at The Toronto Reference Library, led by former FBI Agent Eric O’Neill. This year’s panel was focused on counter-terrorism, espionage, fraud and cybersecurity to understand how to protect yourself from cyber spies in the future.
Eric O’Neill, former FBI undercover “ghost” agent and author of “Gray Day”, is well known as the operative that played a major role in bringing FBI agent Robert Hansen to justice for spying for Russia, and leaking information in 2001.
Eric, along with panelists - Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Kristin Ali, and York Math Professor Dan Falk, centered on what cybersecurity is and understanding where we stand today with hackers and the internet.
Eric’s story was so incredible and shocking, on an international level, that it was picked up as a Hollywood film Breach (2007), starring Ryan Phillipe and Chris Cooper. Eric, played by Ryan Phillipe in the film, explained to the audience about the day he caught Robert Hansen, by stealing his palm pilot that had encrypted secrets of the United States he was selling to Russia and the Soviet Union.
Robert Hansen stole from the FBI, CIA and NSA in what is deemed as the “greatest security breach in U.S. history”. Eric, jokes about the past when spies used floppy discs and palm pilots to distribute their secrets, while reminiscing on the thrilling capture of the former FBI agent and spy that was Robert Hansen.
“No Hackers- Only Spies” -Eric O’Neill
Panelists Eric, Dan and Kristin led a Q&A follow up with the focus on fraud, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism and spear phishing. Spear phishing is usually an email received by a user from a trusted bank or organization the user is affiliated with, that looks reliable and real, however is made by cyber spies to steal your information for dangerous purposes.
Eric reminded the audience of the 2016 election and the email scandal that rocked Hillary Clinton’s campaign, which fell victim to a spear phishing attack. It can be discouraging to think about how easily our security can be breached, especially when those in power are being hacked, but it’s important to be cautious and preventative in any way possible.
Fortunately, Eric provided some of the ways to prevent cyber espionage and attacks in the future. Users must remember to think before sending or forwarding an email that looks suspicious, and clarify with a call to the organization that sent the email on its validity. If you fear you are being hacked, change your email or contact details on your page, but do not click the link telling you to do so.
Do what you can to be responsible and keep your information safe from cyber spies on the web. You never know who’s watching!