So it's a scary world out there - not just on the streets, but even more so online. We hear about huge corporate hacks every other day, that the Russians hacked the US elections, China hacks everyone all the time and, most recently, that a massive ransomware attack hit hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. So, what does the average person need to do to protect themselves from these events??? Read on.
Firstly, let's not worry about things like major corporate hacks, or intelligence agencies hacking governments or anything like that. These tend not to affect the average person on the street (your data can get caught up in these types of attacks, but there's little you can actually do about that). What we're worried about is actually quite a short list of things that are reasonably easy to protect yourself against - things like:
- Ransomware. Nasty things. They encrypt your files and you need to pay them to get your files back. Typically installed inadvertently by clicking on email attachments or links.
- Malware. Can be nasty, but can also just be very annoying - often it just tried to install other software, or advertises at you. Often installed inadvertently alongside other applications, or by clicking links.
- Spyware. Similar to malware, but designed to sit quietly and spy on your activities, be that for advertising, or perhaps to try steal your credentials for certain sites.
- Viruses. A wide range of these are out there. They can do anything from using your PC as a spam email host, or blocking certain applications, or record keystrokes and steal info from you, or can even hijack your PC and use it in another attack, like a denial of service attack.
There are many other 'types' of viruses out there that can affect us - too many to mention in one post, but this short list covers a large percentage of the nasty things out there that we need to be careful of. The next thing to consider is - how do these things tend to get into people's systems and computers? Well, there are a few ways they go about it, including:
- Phishing. Someone sends you a really legitimate looking email and asks you to open a word doc, or click on a link, that then activates the virus on your computer. This is one of the most utilised methods out there.
- Infected websites. If you go to a website that has been infected, and interact with it somehow, perhaps by completing a form and hitting submit, that website can try download and install its malicious software on your computer.
- Fake antivirus alerts. This can get a lot of people, but an application or website might suddenly throw up a fake warning sign saying that a computer has been infected and that the user can click a link to resolve. Ironically, this then installs the malicious software.
- Basically, any situation where you try install something, or click a link or attachment that you think you need, creates an opportunity to download and install malicious software.
And so, what can you do to protect yourself from these types of attacks? It turns out it's not that hard to do - these attackers tend to target low-hanging fruit, and it's not hard to put a few simple things in place to stay ahead of the pack. Things like:
- Patch. Everything. Always. Make sure your operating system and anti-virus are always up to date. There are many security patches applied to these systems that can prevent attacks from infecting your PC. Don't leave this sort of thing to chance.
- Try be on the most up to date platform. This isn't always easy to do, but the recent ransomware attack didn't affect any people on Windows 10, for example. People with out of date operating systems were the ones that got hit. Given the choice, always opt for the most up to date version.
- Get a good anti-virus package. One that includes protection against malware and spyware, for example. A lot of anti-virus companies are also providing add-ins to protect against ransomware now - I'd strongly recommend this is worthwhile.
- Back everything up. Properly. If you think that having an external USB drive attached to your computer counts as a backup, think again. The cloud was practically invented for backing things up, so use it. There are so many backup facilities online now it's hard to even start listing them - pick something reputable and use it across all your devices. If the worst does happen to you, it should be as easy as a few clicks to restore your data.
- Don't be a fool and go clicking things you shouldn't. As a general rule of thumb:
- If you weren't expecting an email, don't open any attachments or click any links in there.
- Never ever open ZIP files or applications unless you explicitly trust the source.
- Avoid opening Word or Excel documents unless you trust the source.
- Hover your mouse over links in emails and you can preview the url you are being sent to - if it isn't what you expect, don't click it.
- If you are in any doubt at all about the authenticity of an email, call the company and ask them.
- Don't install software you don't need - that little gif-making application might seem harmless, but you never know…
- Never click links to access key services like banking. Instead, go and log into your banking via your own app or browser and check for any messages in there.
- Lastly, the ATO will never email you telling you that you have an unclaimed refund waiting for you… please, think about what is being sent to you and be naturally cynical.
So that's your overview and top tips for staying safe in this turbulent time - it's worth spending a small amount of time on some of this now than having to spend a LOT of time later cleaning up the mess after the fact.
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The information provided is to be regarded as general advice. Whilst we may have collected risk information, your personal objectives, needs or financial situations were not taken into account when preparing this information. We recommend that you consider the suitability of this general advice, in respect of your objectives, financial situation and needs before acting on it. You should obtain and consider the relevant product disclosure statement before making any decision to purchase this financial product.