In today’s digitally connected world, cyber crime poses one of the biggest threats to our security. Anonymity has made the internet a perfect breeding ground for cyber attacks-on both individual and enterprise levels-and threats are continuously evolving beyond typical financial concerns. In a world that is increasingly digitized and driven by the Internet of Things (IoT), there are ever-growing ways that our data becomes vulnerable online–thus giving rise to the sophisticated field of cyber security.
At our recent cyber security event with expert Nick Binford from Avira, he discussed the implications digital connectivity through IoT devices has on our online security, and how you can protect yourself or your organization.
What is Cyber Crime?
Cyber crime is any sort of attack that targets computers online–whether via malware, ransomware, denial of service (DoS), phishing, etc.–to steal or destroy data. (See an in-depth breakdown of the 10-most common types of attacks and how they work to disrupt and infiltrate digital networks from Netwrix.)
How Do Cyber Attacks Happen?
More data, more temptation.
For many of us, the speed and convenience of doing things online is reason enough to digitize our lives. We bank online, we shop online, we apply for loans and check our credit scores online. We put ourselves out there.
Massive amounts of data pass over the internet at any given moment. And every month, more than 328 new devices are connected to the internet, each hosting unique and valuable data points. Sounds tempting for a hacker, right? Think about your devices and applications–even the slightest security flaw in the digital infrastructures you interact with can leave all of your information at risk.
There are a few common vulnerabilities to look for if and when you’re hit with a cyber attack. Nick notes that an attacker need only find one weak link, like an easy-to-guess password, an outdated application etc., to breach your network and expose your data. A great example Nick references as a risk is using a public IP address. A public IP address, like one you might connect to at a mall or a library, rather than your private IP address at home or work, allows other devices to access your network, which can open the doors to a cyber attack. Large organizations are especially susceptible due to the sheer volume of data they are protecting. For instance, a network breach at a large department store would compromise millions of customer records and cost the company millions in damages.
Outdated software applications are another common point of weakness. When you update your applications, software patches close old security leaks to prevent hackers from accessing your data. If you’re someone who regularly delays software updates, you’re taking a big risk with your data security. Nick also points to a tactic cyber criminals often use, called port scanning, where attackers look for weaknesses in your computer network to gain insight into where they might be able to break in.
Who Has Been Hacked?
Over the last 10 years, some of the world’s largest organizations have fallen victim to cyber attacks. You probably recall the Ashley Madison scandal, and you might have personally felt the effects of last year’s Equifax breach. Two very different companies, both prey to hackers with very different motives.
Nick references the 2017 NotPetya attack, seemingly targeting the Ukraine and Russia but affecting more than 300 companies across the globe (including 40 in the U.S.), as the most devastating cyber attack in history. Notpetya was a sophisticated malware virus designed to spread quickly and destroy computer networks, infrastructures and data. Notably, the attack spread to shipping giant Maersk, the company that handles about 20% of all world trade, causing catastrophic damage.
Not only did Maersk need to reinstall their entire infrastructure, but they also needed to temporarily shut down their network, costing them up to $300 million and leaving 17 shipping terminals paralyzed. Overall, the NotPetya hack caused more than $300 billion in global damages and wiped about 10% of all computers in the target country, Ukraine. Since the attack, Maersk and other major organizations have stepped up their cyber security to avoid similar cyber warfare.
How Can You Protect Your Network?
Though cyber criminals are more likely to target larger organizations rather than steal information at the individual level, it’s still important to set up precautions on your personal devices.
The first line of defense you can take is setting up and maintaining trusted security software, like the Aviras security suite. It’s also a good idea to subscribe to an identity protection service to keep an eye on your personal data.
Additionally, a few practical measures you should take to protect your sensitive data include:
- Activate your firewall
- Update your passwords frequently
- Enable two-step verification for your email accounts
- Don’t open attachments in emails unless the email is from someone you trust
- Secure your mobile devices with security software via Google Play or the App Store
- Encrypt your important files
- Update your software to the latest versions
- Set your social media profiles to to private
- Avoid giving out personal information in forms, comments or posts
Cyber security programs and specialists are waging the war against cyber crime, but it’s still all too prevalent in our daily lives. With the growing popularity of Internet of Things and connected devices, it’s more important now than ever to understand how the digital landscape is evolving so that you can stay one step ahead when it comes to protecting yourself online.