Although it seems like everyday cyber criminals come up with new ways to steal our information, many people still think that their chances of being targeted by hackers are very slim. The truth is that the risks are very high and there are many ways in which your online information could be compromised. Even if you haven’t experienced it first hand, it is likely that you know someone whose Facebook, email, or other account was hacked. It is difficult to establish what are the real chances of being hacked and the information provided by recent statistics is not enough to determine the actual risk. In any case, given the rise on cyber crime and the weaknesses in several applications and operating systems, it can be said that there are many reasons to be concerned.
Hacking – How could it happen to you?
Unfortunately, there are many ways in which you, or me or anyone else can get hacked. Cyber criminals have taken advantage of the fact that technology is widely available and that we rely on the internet for many tasks. One of the most common ways in which your information can be compromised is Phishing. This is a technique that aims to trick you into providing your personal data including financial details and login credentials used on different websites.
Usually, online fraudsters create a copy of a legitimate website and they send you emails that seem genuine, asking you to follow a link. This leads you to a malicious website that looks like the real thing. Once you enter your login details, hackers can easily access them. Online banking services and online payment providers are the options that cyber criminals are more likely to try to imitate. The emails may look authentic, but upon a closer inspection you are likely to find inconsistencies.
For instance, the emails may come from a similar domain but not from the exact same one of the real website. They may include logos and inform you about a security breach, or some issue with your account that you need to resolve as soon as possible. In general, they ask you to click the link to go to the website and log in to your account to change your password or provide information. One thing to keep in mind is that for security, it is unlikely that a legitimate email asks you to follow a link. Some fake emails are very easy to identify, but If you are in doubt, make sure that you don’t click on anything and if needed, contact your bank or the service provider.
Although in most cases, the fake websites are taken down quickly, taken into consideration that cyber criminals send millions of fake emails, even if a small percentage of users fall in the trap, it would be enough for hackers to get a lot of personal data that they can use for their own benefit. Apart from “regular” phishing, there is also something called spear phishing.
This type of phishing mostly targets small businesses and it intends to gather enough details to break into a company’s corporate system. They may go as far as calling the company pretending to be someone from the IT department. Once they get to an employee, they will try to get as much information as possible to make their way into the system. This would allow them to get into the financials, or payroll system to send the funds to their own accounts.
Viruses and Trojans
Viruses and trojans have been around for a long time and they are not as “popular” among cyber criminals as they used to be. However, they are still a way in which your data could be compromised. Thanks to antivirus programs and updates on operating systems, viruses don’t seem to be as successful as they used to be. That doesn’t mean that cyber criminals have completely abandon them so it is still important to protect yourself against viruses. New viruses are still being developed and they are becoming more sophisticated. Some of them can even log your keystrokes to get your personal data and they may be used in combination with phishing or other hacking methods. As such, a good anti-virus is still crucial. Also, make sure that you don’t open any suspicious email attachments and be careful with executable files.
This is a threat that is also very common. Not long ago, ransomware mainly consisted on fake antivirus programs that would come as email attachments. Alternatively, they would be installed without your knowledge, after you installed a program that seemed legitimate. Once the fake antivirus was on your system, it would notify you that your computer was infected and would ask you to upgrade to the full version of the program to remove the viruses that were supposedly detected. Many people fell for this and paid for the “software”. Even those who didn’t hand over the money, experienced difficulties when trying to get rid of the malicious program. In many cases, the best option was to completely wipe the PC to remove it.
Currently, ramsomware has become even more sophisticated and cyber criminals literally take your data hostage and demand a ransom payment in order to release it. They use advanced malware that encrypts your data and in order to get access to it again, they ask you for money. Many companies and individuals have no choice but to pay since getting access to their data is crucial. This type of ransomware may sound like something out of a creepypasta but it is estimated that since 2014, victims of CryptoWall, one of the most used ransomware programs, have paid out almost $20 Million to get their data back.
How to prevent being hacked?
The chances of being hacked are actually very high but we don’t say this to make you paranoid. However, it is important to take measures that help you to avoid the risks that lurk on the internet. Here are a few things that you can consider to reduce the possibility of being hacked.
This may sound obvious, but don’t download attachments from unreliable sources and websites that you don’t trust. Even if you are tempted to see a video or a photo, or they promise you an amazing cash prize.
Remember that if you receive an email from your bank, or any company asking you to provide information or change your password, you shouldn’t click the link. Make sure that you go to the legitimate website and only log in to your account from there. If you receive emails or calls from a company asking you to provide personal data, be always suspicious, avoid giving out information and ask for details that help you to confirm that the call is genuine.
Use an antivirus program and ensure that it is always up to date. Last, but not least, protect your online activities with a VPN service. A good VPN provides strong encryption to keep your internet traffic protected from eavesdroppers and fraudsters. This is an additional layer of security that will help you to defend yourself against cyber crime.