Protecting Yourself in Cyberspace

Tab 1

August 05, 2016

Cybercrime today is undeniably a significant problem for consumers. Yet, cyberattacks have become so routine that, unless someone you know has been a victim, reports of cybercrime often do not even raise eyebrows. Fortunately, there are realistic steps that may minimize the risks that all computer users face every day.


Ever-present threats


“This is a very, very active environment that we are living in,” says Jason Witty, U.S. Bank’s Chief Information Security Officer. “If you have an unpatched system that has some sort of vulnerability on it, the average time it will take for that vulnerability to be exploited is less than 12 minutes.” 


That number is an average: Some vulnerabilities are found and used in far less time. Computer viruses are created to seek out “security holes” (vulnerabilities). Once the holes are found, viruses are programmed to steal personally identifying information. Then, cybercriminals can use this information to steal and extort money before selling and reselling it to other fraudsters.

The scope of the threat is particularly noteworthy — an estimated 70,000 viruses are released every single day, according to anti-virus supplier Kaspersky Labs.


Take, for example, a 21-year-old programming language and software platform called Java. “Every month, the bad guys find new holes in Java,” Witty says. This is especially significant given that Java is integral to the functionality of a significant portion of the internet — 90 percent of all desktops in the United States use Java, and it is on 3 billion mobile phones, according to business-software maker Oracle.

Tab 2

August 05, 2016

Witty cites five major categories of threats that present the greatest danger to everyone online:


Criminal insiders. Criminal insiders typically already have access to company systems and often know where companies’ soft spots are.  


Organized crime. Cybergangs are active in all developed economies and in a large segment of the rest of the world. They steal an estimated $575 billion per year, according to a 2014 report by internet security giant McAfee.


Hactivism. Groups and individual hackers attack individual people and organizations for political, social or personal reasons. The hacktivist group Anonymous, for instance, operates with virtual impunity and has been motivated at various times by political causes, social-justice concerns or personal reasons.


Nation states. The United States, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and Israel are considered the leaders in cyberwarfare. Nation-versus-nation exploits have occurred, but nation-versus-business is more common, with companies being attacked by a foreign nation for political, geo-political or industrial/economic reasons.


Terrorism. Terrorism accounts for a small but growing percentage of attacks.

Few terrorist groups have the resources to deliver anything but blunt-force trauma, but some emerging groups are reportedly developing or recruiting sophisticated hacking capabilities.


Easy targets


Children. When people think about the dangers of children online, most of them immediately think of their emotional and physical safety.


These are legitimate concerns, but Witty says parents and community members also need to think about the possibility of cybercriminals stealing children’s identities. 


“If an American adult has their identity stolen, they will notice within 90 days, on average,” Witty says. “If a 12-year-old girl has her identity stolen, she probably will not notice until she’s 18.”


Older adults. Older Americans make up another particularly vulnerable group. This is bound to change as the general population becomes more accustomed to using the internet, but for the next few years, at least, older generations generally will continue to be easier online targets.


Witty points out that the elderly are typically more trusting and less savvy online — and they have life savings to lose. All these factors make them attractive targets for cybercriminals.

Tab 3

August 05, 2016

Make a fast, easy firewall


Witty says a good practice for anyone, but certainly older adults, is to use separate devices for email and online financial and shopping transactions. Email remains a primary avenue for malware and human con artists. “I would tell my mom that it’s fine if she’s using her iPad for email but that she shouldn’t also use it for finances and shopping online,” he says. Use a separate PC for banking and shopping.


It also helps to avoid playing into fraudsters’ hands by panicking when they call about alleged computer issues. “There’s an infamous scam right now where someone claiming to work for a software company phones people to urgently inform them that there is a virus on their computer,” Witty explains. The flustered victims allow the strangers to log on to their system remotely. Then, the fraudsters create an actual PC virus that steals personally identifiable data. The computer could then become a “zombie,” meaning that it sends out even more viruses.


Though some groups are more vulnerable to these attacks, it is important to note that everyone needs to remain cautious.

Take steps to ensure that you and your loved ones compartmentalize computing tasks and devices.


Also, remember that sometimes the best response to distressing news involving one’s devices is to shut everything down until you can figure out what is going on.


Watch what you say


It should come as no surprise that social media can open people up to cybercrime.


“You need to have a family social-media policy,” Witty advises.


First, be deliberate about where you are going to post personal information — or, more essentially, where you will not post it. You probably wouldn’t talk about personal matters in a crowd of strangers — follow the same logic with your social media posts. 


Second, understand how location services work. A growing number of apps and online services are anxious to know and disseminate where you are, where you have been and where you are going.


All of that data is gold for criminals both in and out of cyberspace.

Tab 4

August 05, 2016

Vacation photos linked to location services are “particularly nasty” examples of dangerous sharing, Witty says. He advises against posting photos while on vacation.


There are a number of crimes that can be committed against you, your data and your possessions when criminals know you are not home.

The same is true for applications that announce where you are having dinner or spending the day. 


It pays to make a sober assessment of ones’ vulnerabilities and then to address them. Nothing is 100 percent safe, but you can go a long way toward protecting yourself in cyberspace and making it harder for cybercriminals to attack you and your family.


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