Boo! The 3 Scariest Cyber Threats to Your Devices
5 Ways to Defend Your Data in the Digital Realm
It’s a scary thought, but cyber threats are lurking in every corner of the internet. With all the positive possibilities that come with being connected, there are a few pitfalls, too.
But don’t be startled: While navigating the internet sometimes feels like walking down a hallway in the dark, you hold the flashlight to guide your way, and to expose—and avoid—the digital dangers.
During Cybersecurity Awareness Month in October, Arvig is shining a light on three of the most common threats to your connected devices and equipping you with the tools and knowledge you need to repel the threats, avoid the risk and protect your privacy, data and financial security.
Every connected device is constantly sending and receiving information, communicating with websites and speaking the technical language that allows you to access and interact with websites and their many services. As you navigate, devices store and exchange other key information, too, including account numbers, passwords, login credentials and data known as Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
PII is the prime target for hackers and other cyber criminals. Your passwords and credentials are their key to your digital identity, personal finances and other valuable information. But if you recognize the threats, you can mitigate your risk and keep the door of your devices locked and secure.
Here are the top three threats you need to know.
Phishing is a social engineering technique in which cybercriminals pose as trustworthy entities or individuals—a representative from your local bank or a popular online shopping site—to deceive targets and manipulate them into taking specific actions, often for financial gain or unauthorized access to sensitive information. Phishers try to hook their victims into revealing personal information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers or other sensitive data. They often employ methods such as a well-disguised email—complete with a company logo and official-sounding language—to reel victims into or clicking on malicious links or downloading infected files that allow access to your device or expose your PII.
- Spear-phishing: Phishing takes many forms. One such type is called spear-phishing. This is a targeted attempt—often directed at businesses—to steal sensitive information. Unlike other forms of phishing that cast wide nets to catch as many victims as possible, spear phishing is often targeted at one entity, such as a business. A bad actor mines personal details on a target in advance, such as their friends, co-workers, hometown, employer, locations they frequent and what they have recently bought online. Attackers then contact the victim, disguising themselves as a trustworthy friend or entity to gain sensitive information.
Malware is the umbrella term for malicious software. Broadly, malware refers to any software program or code designed to damage, disrupt, steal or gain unauthorized access to computer systems, networks or devices. Malware—from viruses to botnets and beyond—can take many forms and is created with malicious intentions.
- Ransomware: This type of malware occurs when you download something onto your device that triggers a lock on its files and data until a ransom is paid. Ransomware renders the device data encrypted, making it inaccessible or unreadable. The attacker then pressures their target with demands—such as a payment deadline—to have their device released back to them. Hackers use methods such as compromised websites, an infected software download or a malicious email link to lure victims into downloading ransomware.
Spoofing is a form of cyber crime that wears many disguises. Spoofing happens when an attacker deceptively presents false information that appears legitimate. This can include creating a website URL, email address, phone number or IP address for the purpose of impersonating a legitimate entity while hiding their true identity. The goal of spoofing is to present a victim with legitimate-looking information in an effort to engage the victim into believing they are communicating with a trustworthy source, then gathering sensitive data or perhaps passing along malware.
How to protect your devices and data
Understanding the threats and learning how to identify and defend against them is the first step in a safer and more enjoyable online experience. Here’s what you can do to battle phishing, spoofing and malware in all their evolving forms.
1. Be careful what you click
Avoid suspicious links, emails and websites, and be wary of all attachments. Be wary of messages from unknown senders that ask for personal or financial information. Phishers commonly use urgent language and often make emotional appeals. Misspellings and incorrect language is another common sign. If you don’t trust the source or sender, don’t reply or click any links, including the “unsubscribe” button. Just delete the message. If possible, use a “report spam” feature to flag the message and prevent it from being sent to more victims.
2. Keep devices and software up to date
Make sure you’re running the latest version of software on your devices. Take advantage of automatic updates that regularly install the updated versions. Don’t click “Remind Me Later”—hackers don’t wait and you shouldn’t either. The latest software fixes bugs, improves performance and includes the most up-to-date security features.
3. Use strong passwords
When it comes to passwords, longer is stronger. Passwords with at least 16 characters—including special symbols, numbers, and both lowercase and capital letters, are the toughest to crack. Make sure your passwords are unique to each online account. Get creative, and make them difficult to guess.
4. Use multifactor authentication
Multifactor authentication offers an extra layer of security by requiring a secondary method to verify your identity when logging into accounts. MFA commonly requires you to enter a code sent to your phone or email, or one generated by an authenticator app. Push notifications are also common methods of MFA. Though many websites and apps already require MFA, look into its account or privacy settings—you may be able to enable MFA if it’s not already standard.
5. Back up your data
Most smartphones and tablets have built-in backup services included with their operating systems. Backups provide a place to recover or access app data, photos, contacts and settings. Explore cloud-based or website-based backup options. Even if you have to pay a small subscription fee or buy extra storage, your data is always protected—and it’s retrievable if your device is stolen, hacked or locked as a result of ransomware.
The bottom line
The only way to fully protect an online device is to disconnect it. That’s neither practical or useful for most of us, but you can stand up to cyber threats with common sense, a few simple best practices and most of all, awareness and knowledge to recognize when you’re being targeted. Enjoy all that the online experience has to offer—but stay sharp and be safe out there!
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