One in three Americans fell victim to cyber crimes last year. Be prepared with these basic tips to protect yourself against common threats.
The recent data breach at Equifax has put a renewed focus on cyber security. With one in three Americans falling victim to a computer virus, hacking incident or other cyber attack in 2016,1 now is a good time to strengthen your Internet defenses.
Often, individual cyber attacks succeed because people aren't protecting themselves against the most basic and common types of threats, such as phishing emails and malicious websites. Others fall prey to fraud because of social media missteps or they fail to notice fraud because they do not monitor their credit. With an average of one computer being hacked every 39 seconds, according to a Clark School study at the University of Maryland1, it's more important than ever to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.
A Name Changer
A robust password strategy is your first line of defense against hackers. Your passwords should be unique and include a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. Also, avoid reusing passwords across multiple sites. Make a habit of changing passwords regularly.
Skepticism Means Safety
Outside of password issues, two common types of threats consumers fall prey to are phishing and malicious software (“malware”).
Phishing occurs when an attacker attempts to acquire funds, steal personal information or deploy malware by sending an email which appears to originate from a legitimate source such as a financial institution, government agency or credit card provider. Some emails ask the person to click on a link embedded in the message to verify an account, password or other credentials. The link often goes to a fake website that appears legitimate, even down to the exact logos and design of legitimate sites.
Other emails ask the user to click on a file which will then download malware on the user’s computer. Often these communications will carry an unusually strong sense of urgency to panic the user and get them to act quickly without taking the time to double check if the correspondence is legitimate.
The best defense is to avoid clicking on suspicious links without confirming the identity of the sender or verifying the message with the organization mentioned in the email.
Finally, you can become infected with malware in other ways, such as clicking on unverified links in text messages, social media messages and websites. Beware of sites that ask visitors to install a new or “critical" software program to access the site, because this could be an attempt to infect your computer with malware. Bottom line: No matter what the message form, take extra caution when clicking on links.
When using social media or shopping online, be careful about sharing personal information such as your birth date, birth place, passwords, social security number, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank accounts and other financial information.
Even the most innocent request could be trying to trick you into giving away crucial data. A recent social media scam involved tricking users into revealing their age, pet’s name and model of the first car they owned. Publically posting information like this could potentially be used to try and guess passwords or additional security questions.
Monitor Your Credit
Even the most vigilant individual can still fall prey to cyberattacks that result in fraud. That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep tabs on your accounts to look for signs of identity theft or unauthorized purchases.
1 Zogby Analytics, https://www.munichre.com/HSB/hack-survey/index.html
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