If you are con­cerned about your cyber secu­ri­ty – and you should be – it’s essen­tial to know the biggest threats to you right now.  So, what is cyber secu­ri­ty any­way?  And how can you pro­tect yourself?

Cyber secu­ri­ty is the prac­tice of defend­ing com­put­ers, servers, mobile devices, elec­tron­ic sys­tems, net­works, and data from mali­cious attacks. Glob­al cyber threat con­tin­ues to increase at a rapid pace.  Most, but not all, cyber­crime is com­mit­ted by hack­ers who want to make mon­ey.  As the result of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, Cyber­crime, which includes every­thing from embez­zle­ment to data hack­ing and destruc­tion, is up 600%.

Types of Cyber Threats:

Mal­ware, short for “mali­cious soft­ware”, refers to any intru­sive soft­ware devel­oped by cyber­crim­i­nals or hack­ers to steal data and dam­age com­put­ers and com­put­er sys­tems.  Mal­ware is often acti­vat­ed when a user clicks on a mali­cious link or attach­ment, which leads to installing dan­ger­ous soft­ware.  There are sev­er­al types of malware:

  • Virus: A self-repli­cat­ing pro­gram that attach­es itself to clean files and spreads through­out a com­put­er sys­tem, infect­ing files with mali­cious code.
  • Tro­jans: A type of mal­ware that con­ceals its true con­tent to fool a user into think­ing it’s a harm­less file. Cyber­crim­i­nals trick users into upload­ing Tro­jans onto their com­put­er where they can col­lect data or cause damage.
  • Worms: Mali­cious soft­ware that spreads copies of itself from com­put­er to com­put­er with­in a net­work. Worms exploit vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in your secu­ri­ty soft­ware to steal sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion and cor­rupt files. A worm is dif­fer­ent from a virus, how­ev­er, because a worm can oper­ate on its own while a virus needs a host computer.
  • Spy­ware: A pro­gram that secret­ly records what a user does, so that cyber­crim­i­nals can make use of this infor­ma­tion. Spy­ware is often used to steal per­son­al or finan­cial information.
  • Ran­somware: Mali­cious soft­ware which locks down a user’s files and data with the threat of eras­ing it unless a ran­som is paid.
  • Adware: Unwant­ed soft­ware that dis­plays adver­tise­ments on your screen. Adware col­lects per­son­al infor­ma­tion from you to serve you with per­son­al­ized ads. While adware is not always dan­ger­ous, it can redi­rect your brows­er to unsafe sites and can even con­tain Tro­jans and spyware.
  • Rootk­its: Mali­cious soft­ware that is extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to spot and also very hard to remove. A rootk­it allows some­one to main­tain con­trol over a com­put­er with­out the com­put­er own­er know­ing about it.  Once a rootk­it has been installed, noth­ing on your com­put­er is secure.

Where does mal­ware come from?

The most com­mon sources of mal­ware are mali­cious web­sites, email attach­ments, and shared networks.

  • Phish­ing: E‑mails that appear to be from a legit­i­mate com­pa­ny ask­ing for sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion. Phish­ing attacks are often used to trick peo­ple into hand­ing over per­son­al infor­ma­tion or cred­it card data.
  • Shared Net­works: A mal­ware infect­ed com­put­er on your shared net­work can spread mal­ware onto all devices on the network.
  • Mali­cious Web­sites: Some web­sites may install mal­ware onto your com­put­er – usu­al­ly through adver­tise­ments on pop­u­lar sites (malver­tis­ing) or mali­cious links.

How to Pre­vent Mal­ware – 7 Things You Should Start Doing Now:

  1. Install Anti-virus Soft­ware: Anti-virus soft­ware will scan your com­put­er to detect and clean the mal­ware and pro­vide enhanced pro­tec­tion against new­ly cre­at­ed viruses.
  2. Reg­u­lar­ly Update Soft­ware: Keep your soft­ware updat­ed to stop attack­ers gain­ing access to your com­put­er through vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in out­dat­ed systems.
  3. Install a Fire­wall: A fire­wall blocks all unau­tho­rized access to or from a pri­vate com­put­er network.
  4. Use Secure Authen­ti­ca­tion Meth­ods: Use strong pass­words with at least 8 char­ac­ters, includ­ing an upper­case let­ter, a low­er­case let­ter, and a num­ber or sym­bol. You should also enable mul­ti-fac­tor authen­ti­ca­tion, such as a secu­ri­ty ques­tion in addi­tion to a password.
  5. Don’t Open Emails From Unknown Sources: Hack­ers often send emails with links that are sure to send mal­ware your way and hack into your impor­tant infor­ma­tion. It is bet­ter to delete the email than to suf­fer the con­se­quences of open­ing it.
  6. Avoid Using Unse­cure WiFi Net­works in Pub­lic Places: On an unse­cure net­work, a cyber­crim­i­nal can inter­cept com­mu­ni­ca­tion between two indi­vid­u­als to steal data.
  7. Main­tain Reg­u­lar Back­ups of Your Data: Back­ups do not secure your net­work from attacks but they help when you face a mal­ware attack.

Jeh John­son, for­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, stat­ed “Cyber­at­tacks of all man­ner and from mul­ti­ple sources are going to get worse before they get bet­ter.  In this realm and at this moment, those on offense have the upper hand.  Whether it’s cyber-crim­i­nals, hack­tivists, or nation-state actors, those on offense are inge­nious, tena­cious, agile, and get­ting bet­ter all the time.  Those on defense strug­gle to keep up.”

It is imper­a­tive that you pro­tect your­self and your fam­i­ly from cyber­crim­i­nals.  With tech­nol­o­gy increas­ing, crim­i­nals don’t have to rob stores or banks, nor do they have to be out­side to com­mit a crime — they have every­thing they need on their lap.  Their weapons are no longer guns, they attack with a com­put­er mouse and passwords.