2023 is shaping up to be the Year of Living on the Cyber Edge, with the cybercrime industry estimated to reach USD 10.5 trillion annually by 2025. Yet, despite reading and hearing about data leaks daily, we all still have dangerous cybersecurity habits that are hard to break.
Unfortunately, identity theft and account takeovers are very real, with millions of victims yearly. Scammers have become experts at taking advantage of people’s credulity, so even security experts can become victims.
It’s time to whip our cybersecurity habits into shape. Here’s a short list of our worst and most dangerous cyber security habits with simple steps to break them.
Disable Wi-Fi auto-connect for your phone
Almost every shopping mall, library, cafe, or office building offers free Wi-Fi. Turn off the auto-connect function on your devices unless you protect your device with a VPN app. Hackers roam these spaces with cheap gadgets to steal your credentials and data via Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks.
Protect your smart gadgets
Ownership of smart devices is surging. People are adding smart TVs, security cameras, smart fridges, vacuum cleaners, and health and beauty devices as fast as they can buy them. The problem is that each gadget opens its insecure channel to your Wi-Fi.
Criminals love them.
Prevent your smart toys from becoming a gateway(s) into your home network by routing all of them via a secure VPN. And remember to change the default passwords!
Use a link scanner against Phishing
Common or garden-variety phishers typically use a scattergun approach. They send generic messages to massive mailing lists of harvested email addresses. Spear phishers occupy a higher position in the scamming hierarchy. They use personal data to craft more effective messages aimed at specific people or target groups.
And then you can work your way up the fishing ladder all the way to whaling, which means a top-notch target with a lot of money or someone who has access to a significant network.
What do they have in common? They lure (pun intended) people into clicking on malicious links or attachments. They’ll send you to sites where they'll steal your login credentials and personal information or infect your device with malware. The cure is simple: Use a link scanner to check the validity and safety of links.
Protect playtime with a gaming VPN
The most obvious security benefits to using VPN while gaming are protection against hacking, DDoS attacks, doxing, and losing access to your account. But apart from safety, there’s far less lag and better response times if you use a server that’s been optimized for gaming.
Stop using weak or old Passwords
A good password is hard to remember, and people have an average of 90+ passwords. In a game of “Human Memory” vs. “100 Passwords,” we know who will lose. So don’t reuse the oldies and goodies. Instead, use a password manager and spend your time playing games that are far more fun. If possible, always use two-factor authentication (2FA) for any account that supports it.
Remember to Back it up
Imagine the gut-clenching horror of being locked out of your computer and losing all your documents, photos, movies, medical information, and work data. Nothing can prepare you for the shock, fury, and feelings of self-recrimination. You'll have to start from scratch if you can’t restore your computer. Make those backups!
Please update your software
Criminals jump all over flaws in operating systems, browsers, and apps. They target PCs, mobile phones, and even IOT-enabled gadgets. Enable automatic updates and click upgrade when requested.
Avoid non-secure websites
SSL certificates (the padlock at the top left of a URL) are now ubiquitous on the internet because they’re easy and even free to install. A site without encryption (a non-HTTPS site) is either so outdated that it’s almost guaranteed to be unsafe or is knowingly malicious. Fraudsters can intercept everything you do on dangerous websites.
Protect all your devices
If you use legitimate software, your PC might be relatively safe, especially if you use one of the many Linux distros. But did you know that there are hundreds of thousands of malicious or badly coded mobile apps in official play stores? Malware apps can log your keystrokes, record your calls, intercept live chats, and activate your device’s camera and microphone without knowing it. So, secure all your devices, not just your laptop!
Some final advice on dangerous cyber security habits
Don’t blur the lines between your work life and private activities. For example, never register on retail sites with your work email. Large companies get hacked all the time, which may, in turn, compromise your work email and password. Don’t give hackers accidental access to your work network! It’s far safer to keep business and pleasure separate.
Online Threat Alerts Security Tips
Pay the safest way
Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never get the goods or services or if the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly.
Guard your personal information
In any transaction you conduct, make sure to check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to see if the seller, charity, company, or organization is credible. Be especially wary if the entity is unfamiliar to you. Always call the number found on a website’s contact information to make sure the number legitimately belongs to the entity you are dealing with.
Be careful of the information you share
Never give out your codes, passwords or personal information, unless you are sure of who you're dealing with
Know who you’re dealing with
Crooks pretending to be from companies you do business with may call or send an email, claiming they need to verify your personal information. Don’t provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something and know who you are sending payment to. Your social security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Be especially suspicious if someone claiming to be from a company with whom you have an account asks for information that the business already has.
Check your accounts
Regularly check your account transactions and report any suspicious or unauthorised transactions.
Don’t believe promises of easy money
If someone claims that you can earn money with little or no work, get a loan or credit card even if you have bad credit, or make money on an investment with little or no risk, it’s probably a scam. Oftentimes, offers that seem too good to be true, actually are too good to be true.
Do not open email from people you don’t know
If you are unsure whether an email you received is legitimate, try contacting the sender directly via other means. Do not click on any links in an email unless you are sure it is safe.
Think before you click
If an email or text message looks suspicious, don’t open any attachments or click on the links.
Verify urgent requests or unsolicited emails, messages or phone calls before you respond
If you receive a message or a phone call asking for immediate action and don't know the sender, it could be a phishing message.
Be careful with links and new website addresses
Malicious website addresses may appear almost identical to legitimate sites. Scammers often use a slight variation in spelling or logo to lure you. Malicious links can also come from friends whose email has unknowingly been compromised, so be careful.
Secure your personal information
Before providing any personal information, such as your date of birth, Social Security number, account numbers, and passwords, be sure the website is secure.
Stay informed on the latest cyber threats
Keep yourself up to date on current scams by visiting this website daily.
Use Strong Passwords
Strong passwords are critical to online security.
Keep your software up to date and maintain preventative software programs
Keep all of your software applications up to date on your computers and mobile devices. Install software that provides antivirus, firewall, and email filter services.
Update the operating systems on your electronic devices
Make sure your operating systems (OSs) and applications are up to date on all of your electronic devices. Older and unpatched versions of OSs and software are the target of many hacks. Read the CISA security tip on Understanding Patches and Software Updates for more information.
What if You Got Scammed?
Stop Contact With The Scammer
Hang up the phone. Do not reply to emails, messages, or letters that the scammer sends. Do not make any more payments to the scammer. Beware of additional scammers who may contact you claiming they can help you get your lost money back.
Secure Your Finances
- Report potentially compromised bank account, credit or debit card information to your financial institution(s) immediately. They may be able to cancel or reverse fraudulent transactions.
- Notify the three major credit bureaus. They can add a fraud alert to warn potential credit grantors that you may be a victim of identity theft. You may also want to consider placing a free security freeze on your credit report. Doing so prevents lenders and others from accessing your credit report entirely, which will prevent them from extending credit:
Check Your Computer
If your computer was accessed or otherwise affected by a scam, check to make sure that your anti-virus is up-to-date and running and that your system is free of malware and keylogging software. You may also need to seek the help of a computer repair company. Consider utilizing the Better Business Bureau’s website to find a reputable company.
Change Your Account Passwords
Update your bank, credit card, social media, and email account passwords to try to limit further unauthorized access. Make sure to choose strong passwords when changing account passwords.
Report The Scam
Reporting helps protect others. While agencies can’t always track down perpetrators of crimes against scammers, they can utilize the information gathered to record patterns of abuse which may lead to action being taken against a company or industry.
Report your issue to the following agencies based on the nature of the scam:
- Local Law Enforcement: Consumers are encouraged to report scams to their local police department or sheriff’s office, especially if you lost money or property or had your identity compromised.
- Federal Trade Commission: Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or use the Online Complaint Assistant to report various types of fraud, including counterfeit checks, lottery or sweepstakes scams, and more.
- Identitytheft.gov: If someone is using your personal information, like your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, to open new accounts, make purchases, or get a tax refund, report it at www.identitytheft.gov. This federal government site will also help you create your Identity Theft Report and a personal recovery plan based on your situation. Questions can be directed to 877-ID THEFT.
How To Recognize a Phishing Scam
Scammers use email or text messages to try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could get access to your email, bank, or other accounts. Or they could sell your information to other scammers. Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks like these every day — and they’re often successful.
Scammers often update their tactics to keep up with the latest news or trends, but here are some common tactics used in phishing emails or text messages:
Phishing emails and text messages often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment. You might get an unexpected email or text message that looks like it’s from a company you know or trust, like a bank or a credit card or utility company. Or maybe it’s from an online payment website or app. The message could be from a scammer, who might
- say they’ve noticed some suspicious activity or log-in attempts — they haven’t
- claim there’s a problem with your account or your payment information — there isn’t
- say you need to confirm some personal or financial information — you don’t
- include an invoice you don’t recognize — it’s fake
- want you to click on a link to make a payment — but the link has malware
- say you’re eligible to register for a government refund — it’s a scam
- offer a coupon for free stuff — it’s not real
About Online Threat Alerts (OTA)
Online Threat Alerts or OTA is an anti-cybercrime community that started in 2012. OTA alerts the public to cyber crimes and other web threats.
By alerting the public, we have prevented a lot of online users from getting scammed or becoming victims of cybercrimes.
With the ever-increasing number of people going online, it important to have a community like OTA that continuously alerts or protects those same people from cyber-criminals, scammers and hackers, who are every day finding new ways of carrying out their malicious activities.
Online users can help by reporting suspicious or malicious messages or websites to OTA. And, if they want to determine if a message or website is a threat or scam, they can use OTA's search engine to search for the website or parts of the message for information.
Help maintain Online Threat Alerts (OTA).