Professor Yehuda Lindell is one of Israel’s leading scholars on the subject of cybersecurity. For the past three years, he has headed up the Center for Research in Applied Cryptography and Cyber Security at Bar-Ilan University, home to one of Israel’s top cyber-security labs. Lindell and the team of researchers are working hard to find new defensive measures to meet the modern cyber threat. Lindell has a timely message for us all.
“We’re already in the era of cyberwarfare and cybercrime. And we‘re completely unready,” says Prof. Lindell. “Malware enables terrorists and hackers to easily turn a phone into a tracking or a listening device. They can remotely turn on your microphone or camera and can get hold of your location. Imagine the threat that this poses!”
One of the main fears that Prof. Lindell and his team cite as a potential danger to our own online security is our everyday use of social media, where major data breaches have compromised millions of users. “Cambridge Analytica proves that cyber-attacks via social media are a threat to our democracy. It can be used to learn our preferences and exploit them against us. It can lure young and old people into dangerous situations; it can be used to reveal something “dirty” about someone who can then be blackmailed. We can’t be too careful about what we share publicly.”
Prof. Lindell recognizes that social media is a platform where people share far too much data about themselves, leaving open a host of dangerous possibilities. He himself refuses to use Facebook and Twitter, where his personal photos and interests could potentially be used against him. He only uses LinkedIn for professional networking. “We are in a digital world where it is just not safe,” says Lindell. “But unlike the physical threat, people aren’t even aware of it.”
Computer viruses and malware often sneak into our computers, tablets, and smartphones. And more often than not, we don’t find out until it is too late. But we are not helpless from preventing these issues. For starters, we have virus-protection programs like Norton and MacAfee. “Nothing is 100 percent and no single program or firewall will provide everything we need. However, these tools are important and should absolutely be used,” advises Lindell.
“In terms of smartphone safety, it’s pretty well accepted that iPhones are more secure than Androids. However, for most of us, it’s mainly about how we behave online. Once we understand how important this is, we will put in the required effort.”
Prof. Lindell cites three main factors in our vulnerability to information bandits seeking to seize our private online data.
1. “First is the ubiquity of computing where everything is now a computer: your smartphone, your car, your home appliances. The more devices you own with your private data stored on it, the more exposed you potentially are. You need to be ultra-careful with what information you store on these devices.”
2. “Too many manufacturers treat cyber-security as an afterthought rather than a priority. This is particularly true and frightening as it pertains to the auto industry.”
3. “Most important is a lack of education. We teach our kids not to take candy from strangers. We teach them how to cross the road carefully. But we don’t teach them Internet safety. This is likely because we don’t know how to behave online.”
As for the future of Israel’s cyber-security, Prof. Lindell shares some insight on a pair of projects that he and his team are now working on. “We are conducting a lot of research on how to utilize private data without revealing it. We are also doing work on showing how machine-learning algorithms are fragile and vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This is crucially important since it is being deployed everywhere without taking the dangers into account.”
To emphasize the importance of national cyber-security, Bar-Ilan University is now building a new computer-science building that will house Prof. Lindell and the other cyber researchers at Bar-Ilan, giving them every technological edge. “To stay ahead of the bad guys, we are training a new generation of students who have expertise in cyber research. This group will strengthen the workforce, government, military, and so on. However, it’s a long process and we are in for the long haul.”
For more information on how to help contribute to Yehuda Lindell’s vital work for Israel’s cyber-security, please contact American Friends of Bar-Ilan University at 212-906-3900, or on the web at AFBIU.org.