Cybercrime, a challenge for Mexican science
In Mexico, there are 74.3 million Internet users older than six years old – Photo: Ritchie B. Tongo/EFE

Cybercrime, a challenge for Mexican science

17/12/2019
18:29
Berenice González Durand
Mexico City
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Cyberattacks can threaten from the most intimate universe of an individual to the security of a whole nation

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One of the main keys of a good fisher is to take care of the presentation of the baits and hooks since fish must be a lured with something so attractive that their want to obtain it makes them bite despite the risks. Something similar can happen in front of a cellphone or a computer screen. There are cybermessages with deceiving promises, as well as totally irresistible apps whose attractive is exacerbated by the word “free,” but perhaps they are just strategies to catch the less careful fish, those who can reveal their secrets and be victims of identity theft.

The so-called Phishing, which comes precisely from the English word “fish,” refers to the method used by cybercriminals to deceive users and to make them reveal personal information, such as passwords, credit cards information, social security and bank account numbers.

Usually, this practice is done through sending fraudulent e-mails or e-mails that redirect to a fake website, but this is just one of the tentacles of the wide glossary surrounding the territory of cybersecurity or IT security, that can attack from the most intimate universe of an individual to the security of a whole nation.

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Technologic revolution gave us a wide array of possibilities. Cyberspace, a surreal maze of invisible lines in the Internet, social networks circuits, information systems, and increasingly sophisticated electronic devices, has generated, among other things, more access to information, more speed and quality in services, and an immediate closeness to others (although not always wanted); but this space full of promises also strips our biggest vulnerabilities.

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), in Mexico, there are 74.3 million Internet users older than six years old; 65% of surfers are connected 24 hours. No one really rests nor will rest from others: over 300 million devices with access to the Internet will be working in Mexico by 2025.

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Experts needed
IT security is focused on the protection of computer infrastructure and everything related to it. Experts of different areas of IT and telematic are in charge of tracking standards, protocols, and methods to minimize possible risks of confidential information being used in a wrong way.

According to data from the document Perspective of Cybersecurity in Mexico, a punctual analysis done in collaboration with the Mexican Council of International Affairs and McKinsey & Company, there is a wide range of individuals and groups that can launch cyberattacks with different objectives, from individuals sponsored by third persons – like activists or competing companies – to organized crime groups and even cyperspies.

Recently, in a discussion forum about IT security organized by the Ensenada’s Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education (CICESE) a key number was given to maintain the balance amidst cybernetic voracity: It is calculated that, in the next years, Mexico will require from 1.8 to 2 million experts in IT security.

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Doctor Raúl Rivera Rodríguez, director of Telematic of CICESE, said that there are changes in public security pointing toward this line, for in the Scientific Division of the Federal Police several crimes are being processed by tracking finance criminals, human traffickers, prostitution networks, or harassers.

Nevertheless, another relevant aspect to be able to maintain the balance is to generate more experts that can fight the changing strategies used in these industries. Rivera Rodríguez highlighted the cases of some Conacyt centers that have joined this new academic gap, such as CICESE and the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics, and Electronics (INAOE). The latter created a laboratory specialized in services for this industry, like technical audit, ethical hacking, systems and infrastructure vulnerabilities assessment, security analysis in apps and wireless networks.

The institution also has the Masters degree in Security Science and Technology that is already part of the Quality Postgraduate degree (PNPC). According to INAOE experts, only in 2019, there has been a deficit of 38,000 jobs in IT security.

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In the Engineering Faculty of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) they now have the Cybersecurity Program, while the Accounting and Administration Faculty has a Forensic Audit and Cybernetic Incidents Program. In other UNAM schools, there are other academic options with new tools for the rhythm imposed by current times, such as the recently launched major in Data Science taught in the Institute for Mathematics and Systems Research.

“Data analysis, the so-called Big Data, is an area that reinforces knowledge, not only for security matters, but also for the strategic planning in many areas,” he explains and adds that it is a tool that, for instance, is used by chemists to make virtual experiments with the digital twin of the fourth industrial revolution, a part that helps to digitalize the model of a process to predict its future impact.

Rivera points out that as part of the Mexican Supercomputer Network, of which several academic institutions are part, it is evident that there is a lack of human resources who know how to handle these tools with multidisciplinary possibilities. In Mexico, new experts are needed in many of these areas that connect with the cybernetic world and that should be used by youth as work niches with a lot of potential.

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From China, with love?
For Rivera, China is the most advanced country in these matters and it is also the origin of some of the main cyberattacks, precisely due to its great computer power. According to data of the United Nations Officer on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), it is calculated that cybercrime generates incomes of approximately USD $1.5 trillion per year all over the world.

Rivera points out that in Mexico, identity theft is the most common cybercrime. “They use e-mails with deceiving messages to obtain valuable information. The most common strategy can be a message saying you won a prize or receiving an offer in one of your favorite products.” He also mentions that this can unchain a bigger analysis of the profile of the user that leads to a better understanding of how a person can be addressed to commit a bigger fraud.

The spy is within reach, at least in appearance. The total number of users with a smartphone rose from 64.7 million to 69.6 million last year. “The world of cellphones is very big in Mexico and the suggestion is to update our operative systems and apps to avoid the gaps through which criminals can enter,” he says, while he also warns of the necessity of adding other basic security practices like not downloading free software, since it only looks to monitor the user in all the possible ways, “People has to understand that nothing is free.”

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For Rivera, we have already passed the period in which the dangers were reduced to acquiring pirate software; now, the dangers come from the bombing of increasingly attractive apps in which gratuity is conditioned through the access to Facebook’s website of another social network, but by doing so, users provide their identity to the app’s developer. “This is very attractive for groups of all ages, so we need to resist and also watch out what children download.” He insists in investigating well because many apps are not even related with the camera of the use of multimedia, but if we check the system configuration, it shows that they have access to video, microphone, and data analysis, like with Siri. “We must deactivate all of these,” says the telecoms experts and highlights that this is the reason why sometimes it is no longer necessary to look for a product to receive an offer of said product in your e-mail, since sometimes it is enough to mention it with a friend so that someone else can listen through the speakers of one of our devices. “This is becoming common and sometimes it isn’t related to a kidnap but to very aggressive market control strategies.”

For the CICESE expert, these new cyberuniverses have new dimensions according to the generations. He explains that Baby Boomers or Gen-X are less exposed than Millennials or Gen-Z members; however, the latter feel unprotected without a camera and technologic transactions. “This is a digital transformation but also a transformation of the human being, although many have yet to notice it,” concludes Rivera.

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