In the middle ages, there were sieges against castles.
In 1755, British forces quelled rebellions.
In the late 20th century, there was the Cold War and the ever-present threat of communism.
And now, in the modern day, there are cyber-attacks and compromised cybersecurity.
This, unfortunately, is no joke.
2017 saw the world record set for the most data breaches ever. If that fact doesn’t shock you, maybe the numbers will: 7.89 billion information records were compromised in that year alone — rounding up that’s 8 billion accounts that were made accessible to criminals. At the very moment this sentence was written, there were 7,646,974,419 people alive in the world — which, also rounded up, is 8 billion. Not counting babies (although children are still at risk), the discrepancy between those numbers is worryingly small.
Think that you escaped those odds unscathed? Think again!
Let’s take a quick peek at what we have at risk. A person who uses the internet (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t these days?) opens themselves up to the possibility of cyber-attacks, data breaches and identity theft. People are able to go online and open accounts under your name, using your good credit to their benefit — or, they may seek to ruin your cyber reputation via social media which, in ways, is just as scary. If you don’t want someone without your best interest using your identity online, then pay attention to the rest of this article!
If cyber threats are the problem, then cyber security is the solution, and it involves the protection of people’s identities and information online against vicious and malevolent attacks from anonymous individuals who wish to either do a person harm, or gain benefit at their expense. Even though this happens online, it is no less real than being mugged in the street, or being harmed and harassed by a stranger face-to-face. Just like you must protect yourself from potential assailants, you must protect yourself (and your information) online.
First things first: have you been effected? The obvious answer is: probably (read back 3 paragraphs ago)… but it begs the questions: which accounts, and how? The website haveibeenpwned.com provides these answers, and more. Simply search the account you believe may have been compromised, or the account you are curious about, and let the website’s software comb through its records of emails and passwords that have been sold or shared on the deep web. If the accounts in question are reported as compromised, there is something you can do. You’re not helpless here, and now that you are reading this article (inspired by information shared by fame cyber security expert, Robert Siciliano), you are no longer a victim.
Credit freezes are like a panacea to cyber security threats. Also known as a security freeze, it restricts who can view your credit — and in a world where new accounts usually require a credit check, this will stop any fraudulent attempts right in their tracks. If you know that you are not applying for a loan or a new line of credit any time soon, then a credit freeze might be what you need to keep your cyber security in check. The downsides are you might need to pay a fee for the service and state laws prevent parents from freezing their child’s credit. Do your own research to see if that might be the case in your state.
Cyber threats are always evolving, and so are the measures that you can take to protect yourself from them. Of primary concern are your passwords! A shocking number of people utilize passwords that are sub-par and easy to crack — and they are being used for critical websites, and often times used across the board, without change! According to haveibeenpwned.com, 2.4 million people are using the password 1234567. If you’re one of them, do yourself a favor and download a password manager. The best types of passwords are the ones that make absolutely no sense, with a conglomeration of letters, numbers, capitals and symbols — but having a different, ultra-secure password for each website you use is nearly impossible. A decent password manager can not only create the super-tough passwords for you, but can back them all up for you and even automatically log you in to you accounts for added convenience.
A different, but related issue, stems from fraudulent attempts to use your existing accounts and credit without your authorization. Unfortunately, a credit freeze and encrypted password cannot protect from this type of attack. Instead, we must rely on anti-virus software and up-to-date operating systems to protect us from viruses that seek to hack into our computers and, subsequently, the records of our existing accounts. An alternative solution is using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. A VPN not only protects your essential data, but also protects the people who are browsing the internet on unsecured connections by replacing the IP numbers with one from the VPN. It creates a moat around you as you browse the web, keeping you safe from any external forces that may try to harm you. VPNs are often used by travelers who wish to use public Wi-Fi, or anyone who seeks to remain anonymous when using the internet.
Phishing scams, though they sound funky, are anything but. These are fake offers that are either targeted to you specifically (perhaps from information gleaned off of public profiles, such as LinkedIn) or sent out en masse. These are attempts to steal important information, such as passwords and credit card info that most often come via email and phone calls. If you receive an email with a link in it, whatever you do, don’t click on that link! Instead, access the same information by going to the website yourself and logging in from a URL that you trust. For example, if you receive an email from your bank about your statement, go to your web browser to access your bank’s website, log-in, and check your statement that way. In fact, if you receive any information from a company you do business with (or even those that you do not do business with) unprompted, unexpected and unrequested — be suspicious.
There are infinite types of fraud that you need to concern yourself with, and to avoid burning out, prioritization is needed. Tax identity theft and credit card theft are two that you can do something to prevent. For example, the way to prevent someone applying for your tax refund before you… is to apply early and beat them to the chase! Additionally, the way to prevent credit card fraud is to spend wisely, on websites you trust, and to check your statements thoroughly each and every month. You legally have 60 days to refute any charges that were not made by you — but after that, you might be on your own.
Don’t let the threat of cyber-attacks make you submit to fear. By following a few of these simple information security procedures, you can protect yourself and your family as they enjoy all the positive benefits and ease that the internet — and cyber data as a whole — have to offer.