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The importance of cyber awareness

As cyber criminals increasingly take advantage of a user’s lack of knowledge, cyber awareness is becoming a necessary survival skill

The IT community has an inside joke: Most computer problems can be traced to the interface between the keyboard and the chair. This couldn’t be more true in the area of Internet security. Lack of cyber awareness is actually one of the biggest security vulnerabilities facing businesses and individuals.

When you look at the most costly types of cyber crime, they aren’t exploiting high-tech vulnerabilities in cutting edge technology – they exploit human behavior. And this lack of cyber awareness costs those individuals and businesses hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The most costly types of cyber crime in 2016:

  • Email compromise:          $360,510,000
  • Confidence fraud:            $219,810,000
  • Non-payment:                 $138,230,000
  • Investment schemes:       $123,410,000

Email scams, false romances, fake sales and purchases, pyramid schemes: Each of these are fraud types that take advantage of people’s lack of familiarity with Internet safety. And that’s hundreds of millions of dollars lost to businesses and individuals because of simple Internet scams.

The reality is that most of us don’t know how vulnerable we are, and we depend on being a small fish in a big school to protect us.  But we are vulnerable, and each of us is on the front lines of a war without realizing it. Falling victim to personal fraud can cost you thousands of dollars, and getting caught by an email phishing scheme at work could even cost you your job.

So, what is cyber security and how can you keep yourself protected? This article will explain what you should know, and some easy things you can do to increase your cyber awareness and defend yourself from cyber-crime.

Having antivirus protection

You probably don’t think about your computer’s antivirus software until something goes wrong, but it’s incredibly important. The best antivirus software will keep track of current threats and monitor your computer for problems. Having a computer without antivirus protection is like leaving your house unlocked – anything could happen when you aren’t looking.

Always have antivirus software running on your computer, and keep it updated, so it will protect you and your computer from the newest threats!

Practicing good password hygiene

There’s a funny thing that happens when human minds and computer logic collide around passwords. The strongest passwords are randomized strings of characters, while the easiest to remember are based on life details and memorization. The human mind can only do this for so long before we start to lose track, so most of us choose a simple answer:

We pick one or two reasonably strong passwords and use them for everything.

Which means that a hacker only needs to find one or two passwords to access everything, and personal details are surprisingly easy to access in the information age. The alternative is to use a strong, difficult to remember password for every different account, which is chaos for an individual. There are password management services that you can use, though, to keep track of them for you.

Some of the things you should keep in mind when creating and managing passwords:

  • Create stronger passwords: The more complex and obscure you can make your passwords, the harder they will be to duplicate. Avoid easy to anticipate details like birthdays and anniversaries, as these are the things cyber-criminals will try first. Use different passwords for every site.
  • Change them regularly: Don’t let yourself get too comfortable with a password. You should switch up your passwords every few months, in case any have been compromised.
  • Password manager: Add a password management service to your toolkit, and use randomly generated passwords. Since you don’t need to remember the passwords yourself, you can use the strongest ones!
  • Use two-factor authentication: This is a big one. Because a second form of proof is required, even if a criminal gets hold of your password, they won’t be able to access your information. Any time you can use two-factor authentication, do it! It’s well worth the trouble!

Improving your password protocol decreases the vulnerability of your vital information, but it still isn’t a replacement for good cyber awareness.

Recognizing the types of cyber crime

The strongest passwords and best anti-virus protection won’t help you, though, if you get tricked into giving them away. Learning to recognize the different types of cyber-crime, and the ways they try to take advantage of people, is the best defense. Some of the kinds of crimes you should be aware of include:

  • Email compromise: These are false emails trying to get you to provide your login information, usually from a seemingly trustworthy source. Be suspicious of any email that asks for private information, or tells you to go to another page and login. Check the email addresses to make sure they’re correct. If this happens in a work environment, inform IT of the possible scam.
  • Catfishing: These are confidence fraud and fake romance schemes, where the cyber-criminal tries to build a false relationship with the victim, either of a business or personal nature. The goal is usually to get you to send money or cash fraudulent checks, so be extra careful anytime anyone asks you to do one of these things.
  • Spoofing: This is a pop-up advertisement designed to mimic a warning from a trustworthy source. They can look like security breach alert windows, like the well-known Microsoft scam, warning you that your computer has been infected and you need to take action now. They might also be fake notifications that you’ve won a prize. The goal is to get you to visit a site where you will be asked to sign up for services or download programs. Before you enter any information, you should always check that the site is correct: and aren’t necessarily the same!
  • Identity theft: Once a cyber-criminal has gotten your information, they can start to take action in your name, signing up for credit cards and making purchases in your name, emptying your bank accounts, opening new accounts, etc., and leaving you to clean up the mess. These kinds of schemes can leave your credit in ruins, and cost you thousands of dollars.
  • Advance fee: This is the Nigerian prince scheme; the victim is offered a large sum of money for a smaller advance payment. Even though the scheme is so well known that it’s become a household joke, it continues to work!

One key to cyber awareness is to understand the constantly evolving vectors for cyber-attacks. Get in the habit of reading about the newest scams and viruses, so you won’t be caught unaware.

Being proactive

The best defense is not to depend solely on your computer security,  but to take the initiative yourself. Cyber awareness is about being proactive and watching for problems yourself. This involves taking steps such as:

  • Monitoring bank accounts: Keep close tabs on your accounts, and make sure you recognize all of the expenses. The sooner you can identify false charges, the faster you can shut them down!
    Avoid open networks: Even though it’s convenient to connect laptops and mobile devices to open networks, they leave your devices open to hackers. Always assume that anything you do on an open network is being watched by a hacker – it probably is!
  • Be suspicious of email: If an email asks you to do… well, pretty much anything, be suspicious. If you weren’t told in person to expect the request, assume it’s a phishing attempt.
  • Follow workplace Internet security practices: If you work in a business with an IT department, ask for the internet security rules. Be sure to read them, understand them, ask for clarification of anything you don’t understand, and follow them. This is a step that could save your job.

And most importantly, if something seems wrong, take action. Don’t wait for your banks to get in touch with you when there’s a problem, call them yourself. Change your passwords if you think your account has been hacked. File a complaint if you think you’re the victim of a cyber crime.

The price of Internet freedom is eternal vigilance!

As we march forward into the information age, what you don’t know can sometimes hurt you. Whether you need help with a repair, can’t get a program to run correctly, or just want to increase your cyber awareness, you can trust the Experts on Just Answer to have the answer you need for your computer questions.

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