Internet security in the spotlight: How is the internet safer today than it was 20 years ago?

The internet connects users all over the world, promoting communication, education and innovation. Mobile banking and digital wallets simplify commerce for millions, particularly in developing areas. Wearable devices provide users with real-time health and exercise data, while the Internet of Things (IoT) allows everyday objects to communicate with one another, providing superior control and relevant logistics for consumers and businesses alike. As this digital connectivity continues to grow, so does the need to promote safety in all parts of online activity, from financial payments and internet security threats to predatory behaviors and even cyberbullying.

Security experts are stepping up their participation and collaborating across borders to uplift the internet’s positive influences while addressing its problems. Given the growing role of digital innovation among enterprise brands, even the world’s largest countries have a vested interest in the goals and beliefs organized through this awareness.

By focusing on the good deeds by users that make the internet a safer place, it’s possible to champion the role younger generations have played in building a better online world. Yet it’s still important to reflect on the past and to consider which challenges await in the future.

A safer web, thanks to … hackers?

It may sound counterintuitive, but hackers have played a big role in creating a safer internet for modern-day users. However, as VICE pointed out, it’s wrong to portray all hackers as the “bad guys.” In reality, many of them are making positive contributions to the safety and integrity of the internet, so much that they are “playing the role of a digital immune system.”

This is to say that hackers are particularly skilled at sniffing out and eradicating threats. Banking institutions and other companies — including entire governments — have employed hackers in the past to have them identify potential security weaknesses before a threatening entity can exploit them. The US government famously sponsored a “Hack the Pentagon” contest that rewarded hackers for identifying bugs in the organization’s security front.

VICE also noted that hackers have been actively involved in developing medical device security that prevents malicious hackers from hijacking insulin pumps and injuring or even killing people.

As the reputation for hackers has improved, there has been continued organization and collaboration among these professionals, who have grown more powerful and productive by creating groups devoted to certain types of security. Increased support of these organizations is pushed forward to improve internet security for all users.

New threats to face

Though clear, significant progress has been made in taming the Wild West that was once the internet, plenty of work remains — and new challenges continue to surface. Of particular concern in 2017 are the dangers associated with the IoT. This mobile ecosystem has endless potential to transform virtually every aspect of daily life for consumers around the world. However, this deep penetration of mobile technology also presents clear challenges if it’s leveraged by hackers.

For one, IoT devices create new entry points and new security challenges to overcome. Managing these large ecosystems is hard: A single enterprise could have thousands of devices in its IoT environment, and only one of them needs to be compromised for the entire system to be put at risk. Meanwhile, IoT devices have recently been used to execute distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which can be used to direct the traffic of thousands (or even millions) of devices toward a single server, effectively shutting it down and causing it to incur massive security costs.

In cases where mobile technology is being used to save lives, it also creates a security concern that is literally life-or-death to those users. These high stakes require continued attention by the world’s best hackers to ensure it’s possible to defend against cybersecurity threats.

Today, online users can take comfort in knowing the internet is safer now than it was even a few years ago. Yet as the digital landscape changes, continued efforts must be made to stay ahead of these security threats.