Being aware of cyber-threats

Technology is constantly evolving over time. As we expand our cyber knowledge the abilities of hackers also grow. As fast-paced as the cyber world has become it is more and more difficult to keep information private. There are a number of good habits that can help protect your information at home and at work in various situations.  The Department of Homeland Security has made it very simple this year with a simple catchphrase: Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.

One of the most common cyber-attacks is called phishing. Phishing is a practice where hackers target a broad number of users with emails that look genuine, but are actually intended to lead users to click on dangerous links. The intention is to divulge usernames, passwords, PII, and even financial information. Fourty-two percent of attackers infect computers by links or attachments that are hidden by URL shorteners or text like “Click Here.”

Phishing messages can look official by imitating known email addresses, logos, and URLs. Reduce your risk of getting scammed by doing your research and not trusting unexpected contact. Keep in mind no legitimate company or organization will ask for your username and password or other personal information via email.

Email isn’t the only way attackers will target users. Users must be careful when downloading files from unfamiliar websites that may contain viruses in the form of Trojans. A Trojan is a type of malware that is often disguised as legitimate software. The virus attached to the download can create a back door into your system for the attacker.

A downloaded virus can also be ransomware. Ransomware is usually a message that covers the entire computer screen and will have an official-looking seal making the user think they cannot use their computer. The message threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. Never send these hackers money, most of the time these viruses are poorly made and there is a way to get the message off the screen.  One easy way to ensure that you are one a safe website is by looking for the “green lock” icon while online.  Another is to make sure that you are on a website that starts with https://.  Be aware that these are common attacks. Simply not clicking on unfamiliar websites and downloads is the best way to protect your information.

The biggest cyber-threat is the user itself. Many people are unaware how easy it is to get someone’s place of birth, credit card numbers, etc. from social media websites. They also rely on website caching making it easy for attackers to gain usernames and passwords.

A great practice to have is to check the privacy settings on accounts you create. Make sure your information can only be seen by friends and family and don’t save your home address and credit card information to the sites. On top of that, creating complex passwords, using multi-factor authentication, and using multiple passwords that don’t contain your pet’s name or your birthdate will make a hacker have to work extra hard to get into your system. The password “123456789” was used by 7.7 million, while “qwerty” and “password” were each used by more than 3 million accounts. Having a complex password will dissuade a hacker and they will go find an easier target.

In the case that someone gets access to your computer they now also have access to your amazon shopping list, and your private Instagram account thanks to handy dandy site caching. Click “no” when websites or apps ask to remember your password, and use two-part factor authentication to avoid handing out your data on a silver platter.

Lastly, using anti-virus software and keeping it patched and up-to-date is important. This can protect your information technology from annoying pop-ups, and can prevent basic viruses from infecting your system. Automate software updates and remember to restart your devices periodically to ensure updates are fully installed.

Remember, taking a little time to Own, Secure, and Protect your personal information now is going to save you a drastically larger amount of time and grief in the future. Safe practices such as: being aware and knowing which URLs/hyperlinks to trust, maintaining multiple complex passwords for sites you allow to have your personal information, and keeping up-to-date anti-virus software installed on your devices may seem inconvenient in the moment, but these practices will ensure your identity stays safe.

PII- Personally Identifiable Information
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