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January 25, 2018

Cybersecurity takes top concern in 2018

by: Jodi Westbrook Flowers

In this digital time, we trust online companies, whether we are buying groceries, getting a ride, reviewing our stocks, checking email, paying bills or interacting on social media, to protect our most personal information. Often times, doing business online is the only option, so we have no choice but to put our faith in these companies. As such, they should be taking steps to protect consumers.

However, in an astonishing announcement last year, Equifax claimed that a security lapse on its part exposed the private data of more than half the country. If that wasn’t disturbing enough, more recently, experts discovered two major security flaws, Meltdown and Spectre, that they say could potentially give attackers access to the entire memory contents of nearly all of the world’s computers and mobile devices. Meltdown is said to primarily affect Intel processors, while Spectre exploits weaknesses in processors manufactured by AMD and ARM in addition to Intel. A Finnish cybersecurity firm also discovered a vulnerability within Intel’s Active Management Technology (AMT) which could allow a hacker to gain complete control over an affected laptop, essentially providing remote access through a “backdoor” to the machine.

With each data breach, security flaw and cyber threat seemingly larger and more destructive than the last, we as a society can no longer afford to assume businesses will keep our personal information safe from hackers and thieves. While this is undoubtedly a frustrating realization to come to terms with, giving up and relinquishing power to the bad guys is not the answer – there’s far too much at stake. Each time a trove of data is breached, crooks manage to compile more and more of our information, enabling them to steal identities, hold data at ransom, apply for credit cards, drain bank accounts, claim medical benefits, file tax returns, and even take out mortgages in our names without our knowledge or consent. Victims who find themselves fighting to undo the damage may continue to feel the effects for the rest of their lives. 

Know, however, that there are proactive steps you can take as an added layer of protection for you and your family. Available advice on how to address this growing problem can be overwhelming as it is plentiful online, so be sure to research solutions for any issues that are unique to you. Below are a few key recommendations that cybersecurity experts encourage us to consider if you suspect your identity has been stolen or may be at risk:

  • Register for credit monitoring and/or a credit freeze: You can’t begin to solve a problem if you don’t know one exists. By closely monitoring your credit and bank accounts, you’ll be the first to know if someone’s been peeking at your credit report or if someone attempts to open a false credit line in your name. If you have no intentions of opening a credit line in the near future, consider freezing your credit altogether to prevent any credit applications from clearing without your permission. Read more on how to sign up across the three major U.S. credit bureaus.
  • Regularly monitor your accounts: In addition to monitoring your credit and bank accounts, it’s important that you monitor all of your accounts, such as email and social media, for suspicious activity. Hackers are known to use such accounts to gain access to more sensitive data you may have on your computer or mobile device.
  • Sign up for two-factor authentications: Doing so with your bank, email and other important online accounts would require you to provide both a password and a second means of authentication, such as a code sent to your cellphone or inbox, in order to log in.
  • Back up files: Daily backups of all crucial documents and files is the only surefire way to avoid being affected by hackers who may attempt to hold your data at ransom for monetary gain. Though it may be tempting to do so, experts discourage making a payment to release your files in ransomware attacks. Instead, seek out an expert for help.
  • Download antivirus software: And run regular scans to determine whether your devices have been affected. If your device does have a virus, in most cases, an antivirus program will be able to remove it for you.
  • Practice safe browsing habits: When browsing in public, never connect to a network that isn’t password protected, as hackers often use open networks to prey on victims.
  • Beware of phishing and SMiShing attacks: Delete emails and text (SMS) messages from strangers and fake email accounts that may at first glance appear to be from a friend, coworker or company you’ve done business with. When you do receive a suspicious email or text, make sure not to click any links or open any attachments it may contain. 
  • Use strong passwords: Password protect all of your devices, and change passwords on a regular basis. Read more on the benefits of password managers as a potential safety tool.
  • Make sure your software is up-to-date: Security updates are pushed out on a regular basis. Routinely check all of your devices for updates to make sure you don’t fall victim to an attack due to a lapse.

Cyber criminals are innovative, and they come up with new ways to steal information every day. While we may not be able to stay entirely ahead of them, by taking this issue seriously enough to ensure that the proper precautions are in place, we’ll one day be able to reclaim a sense of safety online.