Visiting speaker Matt Devost: Tracking hackers is like playing Whac-A-Mole

March 28, 2014 | Leave a Comment

Visiting speaker Matt Devost: Tracking hackers is like playing Whac-A-Mole

BUIES CREEK -- A cyberattack? It can happen to you. That was one of the warnings international security expert Matt Devost delivered to those who attended Campbell University’s 6th Annual Student Government Association Academic Lecture Wednesday, March 26, in Turner Auditorium.

How easy can it be to become a victim of a cyberattack? Try to download a clean version of the game Whac-A-Mole onto your computer, said Devost, the founder of FuxionX, a global security, technology and risk management solutions company. When one of his co-workers tried to do it, he had to go through 19 versions of the game to find one not infected with malware.

“Nineteen!” Devost said. “If you would have downloaded any of those 19, you could have been infected.” Once you’re infected, he added, you give someone else complete control of your computer. They can use your computer to hack someone else, to store illegal content, to corrupt data, to steal sensitive information, or even to turn on your video camera (if your computer has one) to watch you. “It can happen to you,” he said.

And why did Devost reference the Whac-A-Mole game, specifically? Because, when you’re trying to stop hackers and cyberattckers, “This is the game we’re playing,” Devost said.

Hacking and cyberattacks can cause serious disruptions, especially in the U.S., where its infrastructure has become increasingly dependent on technology in the management of areas like banking, transportation and electric power. Cyberattackers have stolen millions and millions of dollars in one transaction, for example, and they have the capability to disrupt 911 emergency systems and even shut down the power grid of the U.S.’s entire East Coast.

But it takes two things to pull off a massive cyberattack: not just capability but also intent. “Could the Chinese or Russians or Israeli or French governments hack into the power grid of the East Coast and cause it to fail?” he said. “Yes, absolutely. I work with 15 people who have that capability.”

Those groups, though, don’t have the intent. Other groups, such as Al-Qaeda, do have the intent but not the capability. Yet. “The intent and capability can change tomorrow,” he said.

Devost said he imagines a day when there will be a significant cyberattack on U.S. infrastructures to “augment the more traditional attack.” An entity could release a biological or chemical agent in a city, for example, while simultaneously digitally disrupt weather data and the 911 emergency system to “increase the impact.”

When does Devost foresee such a possible threat occurring? Within the next five years.