Cybersecurity and cybercrime are undeniably important issues for online users, with stories of hacks and data breaches never far from the headlines. Cybercrime has even been showcased on TV, in Mr Robot and in a story arc on Grey’s Anatomy where the hospital was hacked and blackmailed using ransomware.
Cybercrime is a familiar term to many, and we’re all using devices more than ever, but a lot of us are still unprepared for a full-on cyberattack. We don’t think it will happen to us – but the truth is it could happen to any of us.
You’d never dream of leaving a house or car without locking it, but many of us do the digital equivalent of that every day with our phones or computers. Here are six of the most common examples of threats, and how to best prevent them.
Cyberthreat #1: Fake public networks
Yes, public Wi-Fi is always tempting, but remember that it’s very easy to set up a Wi-Fi network. Theoretically, someone could set up a fake Wi-Fi network under the name of the café or bar you’re in – and when you log on to the network, that someone can then watch everything you’re doing.
That’s not great, is it?
Everything you do on the public Wi-Fi network could be up for grabs – that means passwords, PINs and personal browsing information.
What to do:
Whenever you connect to public Wi-Fi, always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect the data you send and receive. A VPN, like Norton Secure VPN, creates a private, encrypted information tunnel that helps prevent cybercriminals from eavesdropping on your Wi-Fi connection and intercepting the data you send and receive.
If you are unsure about connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, quickly talk to a staff member to ensure that the provider is legit. You don’t even have to ask that question – instead just ask for the password or the Wi-Fi name to make sure everything matches up.
Never connect to a Wi-Fi network if you don’t know what it is or who it belongs to, as it may be a trap.
Cyberthreat #2: Password phishing on public computers
Public computers are notoriously vulnerable, and they can store information on thousands of people. Cybercriminals can install apps on public computers to source this information.
Essentially, this is like a high-tech version of peeking at someone’s PIN at an ATM. Put it this way: if you wouldn’t want someone watching over your shoulder in that manner, then you don’t want to use a public computer without taking precautions.
What to do:
Public computers aren’t as common as they used to be, but they’re still popular fixtures in airports and some cafés. Password-sourcing and memorizing programs are common (you might even use one in your office), and cybercriminals can install them on public computers and use them to steal users’ passwords.
If you’re using a public computer, try to avoid online banking and shopping, and if possible, social networks. The latter may leave you vulnerable to having personal information stolen.
If you have to log in to any of your accounts, make sure you have two-factor authentication set up so that you get a text sent to your phone to verify the activity with a PIN code. This way, a cybercriminal would need both your phone and your password to log in as you.
Cyberthreat #3: Password theft
Password theft is the most common type of cyberthreat as it can give access to everything from your financial accounts (bank, credit union and so on) to any online shops you buy from. Once a cybercriminal has open access to your favorite shopping account they could be able to get to your credit card – and then you’re in big trouble!
What to do:
You should use a different, strong password for every website you’re signed up to. Use upper and lowercase letters, numbers and punctuation in passwords, and change them regularly.
If you find multiple passwords difficult to remember, use a mnemonic. For instance, your password for your favorite online shop might be BtoimB99! (“Buying things online is my Bag”).
You could also consider using a password management app to remember your passwords for you.
Cyberthreat #4: Malware
With malware (a word that combines the terms “malicious” and “software” – so you know it’s nasty), a cybercriminal can unleash a virus onto your device. This malware can be installed via a website or app, and can steal personal, financial or business information.
It can also be used to “brick” your device (making it completely useless), sometimes for blackmailing purposes – with cybercriminals demanding a fee for returning the device (or even numerous devices, like an office network) to its original condition.
What to do:
Firstly, be careful about what you do online. Okay, so that sounds like a rather obvious tip, but it’s one a lot of people take for granted. A lot of malware can be avoided by being smart online. Before you download or install anything on your phone or computer, read the user reviews and check out the screenshots.
Reliable security software solutions are also invaluable for helping avoid nasty surprises.
Cyberthreat #5: Dodgy apps
Apps are great - whether it's social media, a banking service to keep track of your spending, or simply the latest addictive game.
But how much attention are you paying to the apps you download? One of the basic rules of business is that once something is successful, competitors will immediately copy it - so make sure you're downloading the app you really want.
Numerous reports recently have found users being tricked by fake versions of popular apps, which charge users far more than they should, and in some cases even steal personal data.
What to do:
To begin with, always use legitimate app stores - both Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store look to ensure everything that goes on sale or for download is safe to use (although sometimes exceptions do slip through). Don't ever use third-party app stores for app downloads, as there be malware!
Always check you're downloading the exact app you want - this may sound obvious, but as mentioned, unscrupulous developers have got very good at duplicating popular apps and services to trick unwary customers.
Lastly, ensure you have a comprehensive mobile security suite which is able to spot issues and alert you to anything untoward - such as Norton Mobile Security, available for iOS and Android.
Cyberthreat #6: Ransomware
We all know the danger malware can pose, but ransomware is a particulaly nasty strain that can cause significant damage.
Once installed (often by clicking on a malicious link or visiting a dodgy website) ransomware 'bricks' a victim's device - essentially holding it hostage until a ransom (often in hard-to-trace cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin) is paid.
Ransomware can often disguise itself as a warning from your internet service provider (ISP) or even the police or national government, using false identity to make victims worry they have done something terrible, and speeding up the payment.
What to do:
As with avoiding most malware, stopping ransomware can often be as straighforward as taking care what sites you visit online.
Always ensure the sites you visit are legitimate. Often seeing if a site is protected with HTTPS can be a good indicator - this can be spotted thanks to a small padlock icon next to the address in your search bar, showing you that page is secure.
Also, ensure any files or data you want to download are safe. Check out user reviews and ratings to spot anything untoward, and scan anything that may be concerning with your antivirus solution.
Having a reliable security software solution can be invaluable in stopping infection, and making sure your data remains safe.
Protect yourself online
As cyberthreats evolve and become more sophisticated, you must be careful online. Your information is precious, so keep up to date with threats, update your devices, and install a comprehensive security suite that helps keep your information protected online.