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Cyber security has become one of the hottest topics around, and for good reason. Life is becoming increasingly digital, and more information than ever is being kept on computers. Hackers have used this surge in the internet’s popularity to make a hefty profit for themselves at the expense of most of the population’s privacy.
In fact, a study from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – which is a subsection of the U.S. Department of Commerce – found that around half of the world’s online communities have started cutting down on their internet usage due to security concerns.
This is a shame, considering the internet is one of the greatest tools humanity has ever seen. We understand the importance of personal cyber security, and we’d like to help ensure your safety when you go online in the coming year. To that end, what can you change about your current internet behavior as you move into 2017?
Stay vigilant for social engineering
“Cyber criminals don’t always use advanced computer hacking techniques to steal your data.”
Before getting into more technical aspects of cyber security, you first need to realize that cyber criminals don’t always use advanced computer hacking techniques in order to steal your data. In fact, many of them rely on simple social engineering attacks. This term refers to fraudulent activities used to trick the victim into giving up sensitive information. The IRS scams where criminals called people demanding they pay some fake fine were a good example of how hackers used social engineering to their advantage.
Sadly, these attacks are some of the hardest to defend against. The only way to keep yourself safe is to be extremely cautious about who you give your information to. Institutions like the IRS and even many financial organizations won’t call you if you have some sort of delinquency on your account, instead opting to send you a letter first. If someone does call requesting personal data, ask for their first and last name and look them up on LinkedIn to see if they really work for who they say they do. If you’re still not sure, look up the company’s real number online and offer to call back.
Watch out for malicious links
While social engineering does have a high success rate, hackers also like to take a more stealthy approach by getting you to click on links containing malware. The idea here is to hide malware by pretending that the link will go somewhere else. Cyber criminals love to send out emails detailing fake deals around the holidays, banking on the fact that weary shoppers will click in the hopes of buying something at an insanely low price. For this specific kind of campaign, sending out a massive number of emails thinking that a small percentage of recipients will click is the key.
However, hackers will also often gain access to a single person’s account – whether that be their Facebook profile or simply their email – and send out malicious links to this person’s contact list. The idea here is that users are more trusting of messages they get from people they know.
Again, vigilance is key here. Hackers will use misleading titles on their links, so certain email services like Gmail allow you to hover your cursor over the link before clicking it to get a preview of your destination. If you can’t access such a feature, you can always manually enter the URL or even put quotes around the link so you can Google it and see if it’s legitimate.
Prepare for ransomware
Although you should obviously avoid any sort of malicious link, one of the most nefarious pieces of malware that you need to know about is something called ransomware. This specific piece of software encrypts your data when you download it, telling you that you’ll only be able to access your files after you’ve paid a certain amount of money. However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually get your information back if you decide to fork over the money. Kansas Heart Hospital learned this the hard way when a cyber criminal demanded another ransom after the organization paid the first one.
Ransomware has been exploding in 2016, with one variant called Locky reaching 90,000 infections per day, according to Forbes. This trend is expected to continue into 2017, so you’ll need to know mitigation techniques. Again, this means not clicking on links from suspicious sources, as this is the main vehicle for ransomware distribution.
Outside of avoiding an infection, you’ll want to invest in robust data backup solutions. Not only will this save you from general disasters such as flooding or fires, but it will also allow you to fall back on copies of your files if you ever get hit by ransomware. While this isn’t a perfect solution, it’s certainly better than giving criminals what they want.
Cyber security software is a must
On top of backup systems, you’ll also want to look into actual cyber security software designed to keep your machine safe. Avoiding hackers certainly requires some effort and change on your part, but at the end of the day, it’s impossible to recognize every single threat that crosses your path. Utilizing these solutions helps catch problems before they are given the chance to get out of hand.