Summer, according to tradition rather than to science, has begun. We see Memorial Day as a seasonal kickoff of sorts, dare we actually had also contemplated the Day and its more important meaning about American service people. This time of year is an ending for many, too. The school years are ending, have ended, or will be over soon. Some of you students, or those in your house, or close to you in other ways, who are students, will have an extra special reason to celebrate the end of the academic year. You or they are graduating. Whether earning a doctoral degree in some discipline or celebrating a graduation from some form of preschool, it’s a time for congratulations.
Of course, this and last year’s graduations are unconventional. Grocery-getting too. So too nearly everything in life. In my family we celebrated an elementary school graduation a couple weeks ago. We hailed the fact that the student made it through at all, which was more of a cheeky observation rather than the sigh of relief I make it out to be. Last year we had another walk on their way to college. Both events were of the drive-thru model. Unconventional indeed. No conscious being needs to be reminded that those oddities amidst centuries of pomp and circumstance and tradition and regalia happened in response to the global pandemic. That’s made the last couple years of graduation ceremonies memorable.
I relish in the event. Maybe having only taught for five or six years my jadedness is coming. Some truly lament the celebration. Sandwiching into a gymnasium for hours on end listening to students’ names get butchered. Trying to make out the illegible, puffy-paint remarks slathered onto mortar boards. Looking cockeyed at various colored ropes, pins, tassels and other accoutrement meant to advertise extra special greatness from the class of whenever. For those types the past couple years have provided irrational relief. Again, for me, I’m still into the event and seeing families’ utter glee in their li’l one’s, or bigger one’s, successful accomplishments.
The more fitting way to describe a graduation is to call it a commencement. When the graduate receives her degree, that is the act of graduation. The event itself, though, is one of commencement. Once she’s earned her degree, that distinct point in time when, for example, a university’s president hands over the leatherette folder, oftentimes empty or filled with a symbolic document because the actual degree or diploma is en route, she is ready to commence to the next phase of her life. She graduated at her commencement ceremony. If those are as many words as you ever read about “graduation” versus “commencement” you can feel satisfied you’ve invested your linguistic time in their study.
Know what else seems to commence in summertime? I’m here to usually share some info about cybersecurity and privacy risks online, so you’re nickel bet on the question likely paid off. There are some in the security community who believe that summer is the season of the hacker.
In fact, a well-known security firm published a report a couple years ago concluding just that. Around 60% of security experts surveyed attested that there is a season for hacking, and that’s the summertime. Of the 1,000 respondents from the field the theme seemed clear. Without thinking too hard, or daring to carefully review any data, you could see the logic in the conclusion.
Think about the hacker’s mentality (not too hard, mind you, they’re a special breed of thinkers). They’re focused on their targets. Finding the perfect target. Doing digital reconnaissance on them. Casing the joint, the “joint” being one’s digital presence, or perhaps a server rack somewhere or the cloud (whatever and wherever that joint might be). On the wider scale, summer is only summer for half of the globe at once. While we’re sweltering in mid-August, our earthly neighbors in Sydney, Australia, or Buenos Aires, Argentina, are chilling in the thirties or forties, Fahrenheit wise. Climate digression ended.
Point is, whether the weather for some is summer, or for another some it’s summer some other time, the theory of some cybersecurity researchers is that a thoughtful hacker capitalizes on the warmer season’s effects. Not the high humidity or bountiful gardens, but rather the effects on our collective work ethic, always seeking rationale for not minding the shop. Summertime is for vacations; well, again outside the recent confines of a pandemic it is. Summertime is when most education systems, a growing target of hackers, empty out. There are many other ways to describe the general tenor that the “cats are away” and so the “mice can play.” The summertime theory seems a little less convincing considering this scientific fact surrounding hemispherical seasonality. The hackers are all over the earth, which for half of any calendar year presents summertime somewhere.
Interestingly, the study that revealed this presumed summer “bump” in successful hacking incidents was published well before the pandemic arrived. I’ve discussed the novel coronavirus phenomenon many times as heightening security risks because so many remote workers have lagging security protocols protecting their office-back porch. The 2019 study agreed in that experts formed the consensus that remote working, also a popular alternative during pre-COVID summers, led the list of root causes of amped up breaches. That was the second indication, to me, that maybe this theory that summer’s most risky was not wholly reliable. All told, I believe that during the past 15 months security has been relatively stable. When are we not vulnerable? Winter? Nope.
It seems like the jury’s still out, honestly, about whether summertime poses validly higher risks. Deep into the study it’s made clear that hard evidence wasn’t presented. Generally, my position is that your summer is secure as ever, so long as you recognize that, as ever, the hacking shall commence.
Ed is a professor of cybersecurity, an attorney, and a trained ethicist. Reach him at email@example.com.