Every time we power up an Internet-accessible device, we put ourselves and, if we’re on a network, everyone and everything on that network at risk. For years, experts advised us to protect ourselves by continually updating our anti-virus software. But that’s no longer enough. The “black hats,” aka hackers, are winning the game with more sophisticated ways to use and abuse our data.
Cybersecurity experts note that hacking is on the rise and reaching deeper and deeper into our personal and business lives. Among the top incursions of 2016 were Centene Corporation (950,000 member records breached), Department of Homeland Security (30,000 employee records breached), Internal Revenue Service (700,000 records including socialsecurity numbers breached), LinkedIn (167 million emails, including passwords, breached), and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (160,000 individuals’ records breached).
On Oct. 21, 2016, a series of DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks caused widespread disruption of legitimate Internet activity across the nation. Netflix, Airbnb, Twitter, Comcast and Verizon were among the victims. This attack, the largest of its kind to date, was the first to infect everyday digital devices such as home routers, televisions, thermostats and surveillance cameras with malware, and to use them without the owners’ knowledge to overwhelm the victims’ service networks.
Other hacks are disruptive if more limited in scope. In mid-January, for example, a picturesque hotel in the Austrian Alps (Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt) was attacked using ransomware. The hotel’s keycard system was targeted, locking guests either in or out of their rooms.
Think it can’t happen to you? These days, not just your data, but any device connected to the Internet is vulnerable to hacker attacks.
Technically speaking, a virus is malicious code that infects existing software and applications on your computer. Malware, or malicious software, is any code that infects your Internet-accessible device. It can send mass-mail spam, steal your passwords, infiltrate your database and much worse.
For most of us, vigilance is maintained by ensuring both anti-virus and malware software are installed on our devices and updated. It’s a good idea to set your device for a complete scan during off-hours at least once each week. If you click on a website and notice something weird, or receive a message from your device that the site is not safe, immediately perform scans on your computer to minimize any damage or loss of data.
But that’s not all you need to know.
PC World magazine estimates that in 2013 there were, on average, 82,000 new malware threats per day. CNN Money revealed that in 2014, more than 317 million pieces of new malware were created. That’s almost one million pieces per day. And the threats are both increasing and spreading. DigitalTrends.com, a technology review site, reported in January that the first malware to attack the Mac operating system had been discovered. Apple has appropriated dubbed it Fruitfly.
While it is almost impossible to provide 100 percent protection for yourself and your devices, it is important to be cyber-aware. First, familiarize yourself with the most common types of cyber attacks you are likely to face. Next, takes steps to ensure you are doing everything possible to protect yourself from an attack. Norton by Symantec offers in-depth prevention tips. The basics:
>> Keep your computer current with the latest patches and updates. This will make it more difficult for hackers to access your system
>> Make sure your computer is configured securely. Adjust privacy and security settings on browsers, email and other applications according to your needs.
>> Choose strong passwords, keep them safe and change them at least every 90 days. This can limit damage from hackers who gain access to your network.
>> Protect your computer with security software (firewall, anti-spam, anti-spy).
>> Protect your personal information. Know how and when it’s safe to share it
>> Online offers that look too good to be true usually are. For example, free software may be bundled with advertising software that tracks your behavior and spams you with unwanted solicitations.
>> Review bank and credit card statements regularly. The impact of data theft is reduced if caught quickly.
I would add another tip: When you receive a telephone call saying there is a problem with your computer and they need to fix it right away, just hang up. Unless, of course, you want to pay ransom and/or lose all your data.
It’s the job of all of us to be vigilant and protect our own data, as well as to help and educate others. Your cyber safety depends on it.