Devin Partida writes about cyber security and technology. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com.
Today’s digital technologies enable faster, more flexible communication than was ever possible before. Whether for emergency alerts or workplace updates, mass communications systems are utilized in businesses, schools, and even governments around the globe. As these solutions continue to gain popularity, the need to secure them also rises.
Cyber crime has skyrocketed in the last couple of years. According to one recent report, cyber security incidents grew 400% across 2019 and 2020, with most of these cases coming from malicious cyber criminals. This trend affects all digital systems, and mass communications solutions are an area of particular concern.
Mass communications systems are growing
One of the reasons these systems are vulnerable to cyber crime is their rising prominence. Mass communications tools rose amid the pandemic as organizations looked for ways to keep people informed about fast, sweeping changes. More people are using these systems now, and they’re using them more often.
Such broad adoption and frequent implementation create an ideal target for cyber criminals. Hackers tend to favor tools people use more frequently since they offer either more to gain or higher success rates. The explosion of Zoom-related cyber security incidents in 2020 highlights this trend, and a similar situation could happen with mass communications systems.
Adoption of these solutions will likely continue to grow as more organizations realize their utility. These are helpful resources, so businesses, schools and governments are right to pursue them. As their use becomes more prominent, though, people should start thinking about their security.
Mass communications hacks could be dangerous
The prevalence of mass communications systems isn’t the only factor that makes securing them essential. As more hackers start targeting these tools, a successful attack could be devastating. By design, these systems convince multitudes of people to take a given action, making them dangerous if a malicious actor controls them.
Imagine if a hacker infiltrated a university’s mass notification system. Colleges typically use these solutions to notify students of emergencies like inclement weather or security incidents. The hacker could send a false emergency alert to evacuate a building, giving them free access to it or gathering hundreds of victims in one area for another crime.
State-sponsored hackers or cyber terrorists could use these systems to cause widespread panic or misinformation. Take the 2018 Hawaiian false missile threat situation, for example. A mistake sent an alarm about an incoming missile to citizens across Hawaii, causing mass panic within minutes.
Mass communications messages typically come from authoritative sources and often relate to emergencies. As such, people are more likely to believe and respond to them. If a malicious threat actor infiltrated these systems, they could cause millions of people to act recklessly.
Securing mass communications systems
Thankfully, these threats don’t necessarily render mass communications systems unsafe. With proper cyber security measures, organizations can ensure these solutions stay in safe hands.
The most critical factor in securing mass communications systems is restricting access controls. Only a few people should be able to send messages, and they should have to verify their identity to do so. Multifactor authentication is a must here since more than 80% of hacking incidents involve stolen credentials.
Any employees who work with these systems should have thorough cyber security training. Phishing is a growing threat, and it can give hackers access to these systems. To mitigate these risks, workers should know how to spot and respond to phishing attempts.
Continuous monitoring can also help stop any infiltrators from acting. Users should likewise update their software regularly to patch any vulnerabilities.
Ensuring safe, effective communication is crucial
Mass communications systems can be a life-saver in some situations. Given how crucial these solutions are and how prevalent they’ve become, users must secure them. Robust cyber security lets organizations use these systems free of worry, but a lack of security turns them into vulnerabilities.