How to Avoid the Newest Cyberattacks
Would you rather sleep with your house unlocked or surf the Internet without security software? If you'd choose a deadbolt over a firewall, think twice. While most of us are more concerned about real-world crime, we're three times more likely to be victimized online, according the Norton Cybercrime Report 2011.
The study found that computer criminals worldwide cost their victims at least $388 billion last year, a figure which rivals the value of international drug trafficking. Of 19,000 users surveyed in 24 countries, 65 percent had experienced cybercrime within the past year. Male users aged 18 to 30 and people in emerging markets were most at risk.
Why is cybercrime so prevalent these days? In a word: opportunity. As more people shop, bank, socialize, and work online, they're sharing a wealth of personal and financial information that can be exploited by cybercriminals. Furthermore, many Internet users aren't security savvy. Forty-one percent don't have an up-to-date security software suite installed on their computers, for example.
So what do you need to look out for? Here's an update on some emerging threats to steer clear of in 2012.
Sure, you know better than to follow links emailed by shady online pharmacies or widows of Nigerian billionaires. But what if the link came from your boss? Today's sophisticated cybercriminals are using psychological trickery to get around online security measures, a practice known as social engineering. In a typical attack, an email that appears to be from a friend, authority figure, or business actually links to a malicious site that downloads malware to your computer. A common variation: victims are lured to fake banking or social media sites that steal their passwords when they log in. If you receive a link you haven't requested, double check with the sender before clicking.
About 11 percent of U.S. adults now own a tablet computer of some kind according to survey results released in October 2011 by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism and The Economist Group. If you're one of them, be aware that cyberattacks are no longer targeting only desktop and laptop computers. Now they're going after tablets as well via corrupted apps that install data-stealing programs.
Security experts are urging more be done to slow these types of attacks down. Google has made it easy for any developer to post an app in Android Market and relies on users to supply feedback about security problems; Google has, however, already removed 25 corrupted apps from its Android Market. Apple, by comparison, keeps tight control over its App Store and its apps have only been minimally affected by hackers.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup, which brought millions of soccer supporters online in search of news, travel information, and merchandise, was a bonanza for cybercriminals. Event-themed emails, Tweets, and Facebook posts enticed many fans to click dubious links that downloaded malware to their computers. Other victims landed on malicious sites while Googling World Cup news. The 2012 summer Olympics in London appears to be next in line for this type of exploitation. To protect yourself, be extra wary of links in Olympic-themed emails and social media posts, and get your Olympic news from reputable sites.
These days, online thieves are looking to crack far more than your bank and credit card accounts. They're also after your frequent flier miles. In the cyberunderground, thugs trade stolen miles as a form of exchangeable currency, according to security solutions company RSA. Frequent flier phishing usually steps up during peak travel times like summer and the holidays. Loyalty plans that allow members to transfer miles or trade them for non-flight merchandise are most likely to be targeted. To protect your miles, never disclose your frequent flier account information online and always type the host company's URL directly into your browser to ensure you're logging in to the real website.
While some cybercrime is unavoidable, you can protect yourself by installing appropriate security software and following safe surfing practices. And remember, the old adage, "If something looks too good to be true, it probably is" goes triple in cyberspace.
While online, follow these commonsense precautions to help protect yourself from cyberattacks:
- Install a full security suite on your computer, including a firewall, antivirus program, and spyware protection. Protect your smartphone with a manufacturer-approved security app.
- Keep software up to date.
- Delete spam unread. Never reply to it or click on the links.
- Malicious emails are often disguised with the logos of banks, charities, and other trusted entities. Be wary if you notice spelling and grammatical errors or an email address that doesn't match the company URL.
- Never reveal your bank account or credit card numbers, passwords, or other sensitive information in cyberspace.
- Before logging in to a password-protected site, type the company's URL directly into your browser.
- Conduct online banking and other sensitive transactions on private computers with secure Wi-Fi connections.
- Shop online only with reputable companies. Use the same credit card every time and review the statement regularly. Avoid using debit cards online.
- Create strong passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols and change them every 90 days. Use unique passwords for online banking accounts.