How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Attacks

Recently, the world has witnessed the explosion of cybercrime to unimaginable levels in terms of sophistication and aggressiveness. The days when cyber-attacks were a preserve of a few large countries and organizations are long gone, everybody everywhere is now a potential target. A quick review of the cost of cybercrime by ponemon Institute shows that US alone loses tens of million dollars to cybercrime each year. The figure amounts to $680 million in terms of stolen debit/credit cards in Russia yearly

High-profile attacks such as the JPMorgan, Target, Home Depot or Neiman Marcus clearly indicates that no single company is large enough for a cyber-attack. It is therefore not surprising that US is urging its citizens to consider taking up cyber insurance. But before you start paying monthly premiums to an Insurance firm to secure your other money in the bank, consider reading through the following five easy steps that will help you avoid cyber-attacks.

Carefully Review your financial Statements

Prudent financial management is the first step in detecting and mitigating cyber threats. To stay ahead, be extra vigilant over your financial statements. Carefully going through your statement on a regular basis will help nip hackers on the bud, as early as possible. The more a hacker stays undetected the greater the loss.

Sometimes reviewing long statements might be tedious and time consuming but here is the easy way out. Set at least one day in a week to review your financial statements. This will significantly reduce the workload per sitting. Secondly, check for suspicious transactions, usually huge sums or mostly peculiar small transactions in abnormal decimals. Note, most fraudsters use botnets and therefore a good number these fraudulent transactions are in not so common figures such as $1.08, $ 2.93 or $5.61. Rarely will you find a commodity priced at $1.08. Small transactions usually below five dollars help the hacker stay undetected for long.

Lastly, consider subscribing to real time alerts from your bank or card provider. Most banks have a notification system to alert you about a transaction on your account. Set a transaction limit on your debit/credit card upon which you receive a text message or email alert in case of an attempt to exceed the set dollar amount.

Use Strong Passwords and Change them regularly

The importance of a strong password can never be over emphasized.  A weak password is more like locking your house with a million dollar padlock and leaving the key under a mat – on your doorstep. If you buy the best locks for your house, why would use a pet name, address, nickname or your social security Number for your bank account? A review of passwords in 2014 reveal that at least 50% of web users use a weak password, while a majority of people use the same password to across multiple online accounts.

To come up with strong passwords, be creative and more adventurous in thinking. Avoid passwords based common word, phrases or personal information that can be connected to you or your family. For strong passwords, intentionally misspell words and use a combination of lower case, uppercase and symbols. Remember to regularly change passwords. Any day is a good day to get a password change.

Be wary of emails from service providers

Phishing or online scams is a decade-old security threat, which continue to terrorize web users’ while earning fraudsters handsome returns. Hackers employ well-choreographed social engineering skills to lure the user into giving out their login credentials. It starts with a bogus email allegedly from your Bank or Financial service provider, asking you to update some important account details or warning you about a suspicious activity on your account.

To stay out of harm’s way, avoid clicking embedded links in emails from unknown sources. Malicious links from unknown sources direct to spoofed websites designed to steal your login credentials. If in doubt, manually search the site and log in directly. Secondly, never open or download email attachments from suspicious sources.  Con artists use malware ridden attachment to weaken and penetrate the targets computers. If necessary open attachments in protected view which comes installed by default in many operating systems.

As a rule thumbs, always be wary of emails from your bank or other service providers. Normally, no bank will ever ask you to give your details over the internet. If necessary, call your bank to authenticate the source of the email. Lastly, always exercise correct judgment and pay attention to fine details in emails. Most phishing emails have deficiencies that give them out. Look for deficiency in grammar, Logo design and senders email addresses.

Keep your Personal information private

With the growing Internet of Things (IoT), maintaining a tight leash on your personal information is extremely difficult. Every additional internet connecting device carries with it a share of your personal information and presents a new security threat. Studies also indicated that so much personal information is floating freely on the web, or tucked away in numerous databases around the world.

To stay safe, limit the amount of private information on your devices. Notably, we unnecessarily carry too much incriminating information on portable devices. If possible have all your private files in one device which you can easily secure. Secondly, avoid giving out personal information to unsolicited callers. Most online scammes pose as customer care agents seeking to confirm some information urgently. Lastly, Pay attention to website URLs before giving out personal information on new websites. Secure web address start with (https//) implying communication will be encrypted. Check for Https, especially when the site is one offering product or services – information portals are ‘ok’ without it.

System configuration and Patch Management

A well configured system is the first line of defense against cyber threats. Previously, we took your through a few changes to your browser setting that will make more resilient to cyber threats. Additionally, update your anti-virus, operating System and other critical defense software on a regular basis. Cybercrime is a changing landscape with new malwares, privacy breaches and security vulnerability being discovered on a daily basis.

More importantly, have an efficiently patch management policy that ensures all systems and applications are continuously patched on a timely basis. Keeping up with new patch releases is key to having a secure system. For example, Shellshock, a worldwide vulnerability in UNIX based operating systems caused a shudder in Tech world last year. Continuously monitor your service provider’s websites and official blogs for new security releases and patches.

Lastly, employ early warning measures to continuously monitor your system for intrusion.  Additionally, avoid poorly developed web applications as most of them have numerous zero day vulnerabilities that will endanger your security. Always Purchase web applications from known vendors with legitimate digital certificates.

Top/Featured Image: By Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Aaron Ansarov / Wikipedia Commons

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How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Attacks

by Ali Qamar time to read: 4 min
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