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Five movies that (kind of) predicted cybercrimes

HackersEquifax. The Securities and Exchange Commission. Whole Foods. These are just a few of the hacking incidents that have made the news in recent weeks. Although organizations are becoming increasingly concerned about their cybersecurity in the wake of current reports, Hollywood has been warning us for years about the importance of keeping our data safe. The following five movies are not only entertaining, they also acted as a crystal ball of sorts by giving us a glimpse into the possibility of today’s cyber events.

Movie: “The Net” (1995)

Lesson: Your personal data is your most important possession.

“The Net” warns of what can happen when your data falls into the wrong hands. When systems analyst Angela Bennett receives a disk from a colleague, she inadvertently sets off a chain of events that leads to her social security number being reassigned to another name, her home being sold out from under her and an arrest for a litany of crimes she didn’t commit—not to mention the mysterious deaths of people around her who know about the disk.

Although most people will not suffer such dramatic consequences from a breach to their information, character Jeff Gregg, the owner of software company Gregg Microsystems, sums up the importance of data in this way: “You need to remember in this day and age, information is sacred.”

This proclamation is especially true for CPAs, because you not only handle your own data, you are the keeper of your clients’ most sensitive information—so make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest tools and techniques to ward off cyberattacks. You can learn more about cybersecurity trends and best practices during a free, live, one-hour webcast with global cybersecurity expert and Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec.

Movie: “Sneakers” (1992)

Lesson: Always encrypt your data.

In “Sneakers,” security specialist and hacker Martin Bishop is hired to find a black box that holds an encryption key people are willing to lie, steal and even kill for. Martin later finds out that it’s really his old hacker buddy, Cosmo, who wants the box because “the world isn’t run by weapons anymore or energy or money. It’s run by little ones and zeros, little bits of data.”

To keep the little bits of data that run your professional world safe, it’s important to get it encrypted, which is the process of scrambling information in such a way that it is rendered unreadable without a key. By encrypting your company’s data, you can help protect it on all your devices, whether they are desktop computers or mobile phones. Encryption also allows you to transmit data safely, store information in the cloud and remain compliant with relevant data protection regulations.

Movie: “Independence Day” (1996)

Lesson: One virus can bring down an entire system.

In “Independence Day,” the world is faced with a high-tech alien invasion that only a skillfully-planted computer virus can thwart. Although you don’t have to worry about the destruction of the Earth by a fleet of spaceships filled with aliens intent on taking over the world, a cyberattack can still have catastrophic effects on your business in terms of lost data and productivity. The cost to rectify the problem can be substantial. In fact, according to the 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study from IBM and the Ponemon Institute, data breaches cost U.S. organizations an average of $7.35 million per incident.

Movie: “Hackers” (1995)

Lesson: Companies can protect themselves from hackers by learning from them.

To protect itself from cyberattacks, the Ellingson Mineral Company hires a former hacker, Eugene “The Plague” Belford, to help protect its data. This is not as outlandish as it may sound: More and more companies are hiring white-hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers, to use their skills to find vulnerabilities in their systems. But organizations should be careful who they choose because, as Ellingson Mineral Company learned the hard way in “Hackers,” these employees may turn their technical abilities against the companies they work for.

Another option is to work with a fellow CPA skilled in information management and technology to help you design your firm’s cybersecurity system – or even use the AICPA’s cybersecurity risk management framework and related tools as a basis for doing so yourself.

Movie: “Six Degrees of Separation” (1993)

Lesson: Identity theft can cause chaos in your life.

When Paul interjects himself into Flan and Ouisa Kittredge’s life by pretending to be a friend of their children (and claiming to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier), he causes the couple to spend hours trying to figure out his real identity—and determine how deep his deception goes. Much like the Kittredges, people who are the victims of identity theft spend dozens of hours resolving the problem. In addition, identity theft can be costly. Although Paul was only able to get $50 from the couple, in real life, identity theft cost consumers $16 billion in 2016 alone.

While the events of these films are highly dramatized and, in many cases, tinted with a Hollywood view of technology at the time, cybercrime and cybersecurity are anything but entertaining. By availing yourself of the many cybersecurity resources available through the AICPA, you can begin to design a more secure data system for yourself and your clients.

The popcorn is optional.

Lindsay N. Patterson, CAE, Senior Manager, Communications and Public Relations, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Hackers courtesy of Shutterstock.

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