How to Avoid Cyber Security Threats

We read about it in the news every week – “JPMorgan Chase Hacking Affects 76 Million Households”, “A massive leak of private Snapchat pics — and an era when even ‘disappearing’ photos can reappear”, “Dropbox Blames Security Breach on Password Reuse” – corporations we trust are failing at keeping our private information safe. But is it entirely their fault?

Padlocked computer monitor.During October, the United States celebrates the 11th year of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). The theme this year is “Our Shared Responsibility”; meaning we cannot hold one person, corporation, or government solely responsible for internet security. No, cyber security threats are the forest fires of the internet, and only you can prevent them.

To help, we’ve put together some information on the two most common security threats and how to best avoid or combat them.

1. The Threats

  • Phishing is not only similar to fishing by name, but also by definition. Scammers cast their bait by sending false, urgent emails to large groups of users, claiming to be from a legitimate company. They ask for sensitive information, such as account details or credit card information, threatening to close your account if you do not provide the information.
  • Short for “Malicious Software”, malware is code that infects a computer once downloaded by a user. It was originally called spyware due to its covert behavior. Like a secret agent, malware tracks your behavior, reports your personal information to other servers, and “attacks” you with pop-up ads, email spam, and other unwanted intrusions. You may also notice your computer and internet running much more slowly than usual, or crashing altogether.

2. How can I avoid it?

Begin a habit of running weekly virus and malware scans with your security software. Run a scan after installing new software as well; sometimes, even trustworthy downloads are infected with malware. If you receive a possibly untrustworthy email, be sure to check the following things.

  • Spelling/Grammar – Popular companies have editors who check and recheck e-mails before sending them to customers. It’s highly unlikely they will contain spelling errors. If the grammar looks off, be wary.
  • Hyperlinks – If you receive a suspicious email asking you to follow a link, don’t click it. Instead, hover your mouse over the link. A small textbox that displays the actual location the link will take you. Practice hovering before clicking with this link: http://phishing.org/phishing-techniques/

If you see any red flags, do not respond, do not click on anything in the email, and do not give them any of your private information.

3. My security’s been breached! How do I fix this?

  • First, make sure you have a backup of all your important files. Do not create backups of program files if you suspect your computer has been infected with malware, because they may have been infected as well.
  • Update your anti-virus software and run a full scan on your system.
  • Change your username and password on all sites you believe may be compromised.
  • Finally, if you think your personal information may have been compromised, notify your bank and credit card companies immediately, as well as the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Victims of phishing and malware attacks can soon become victims of identity theft. Visit http://www.staysafeonline.org/ncsam/ for more information on National Cyber Security Awareness Month, see how you can help promote, and remember: Think before you click.

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