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Seven big cybersecurity threats and how to prevent them

Mon, 5th Nov 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

We now live in an “always on” world. Whether we're chatting with friends, shopping or watching our favourite TV shows, we're hooked up to the World Wide Web in some way. And while most of use rarely experience any issues, we all have to be vigilant. After all, we're sharing lots of personal data online every day. Hackers and fraudsters will go to enormous lengths to steal this data, so it's important to know about the top cybersecurity threats we face today.

Here are seven cybersecurity threats we all need to protect ourselves from. While there are countless others, these are the ones most people face in their day-to-day lives.

1. Phishing

Have you ever received an email telling you about a potential security breach? These days, most people have, so it's important to understand the risks of replying directly. In many cases, the sender is a criminal, who wants you to confirm your login and password details for verification. In some cases, criminals create elaborate copies of legitimate websites, simply so you enter your login information unwittingly — thus handing it to them.

The first thing you need to do when you receive such a message is carefully check the address or number of the sender. In the case of an email, the address may look very similar to the real thing, with just a digit or two added to make it different. If you're asked to click a link, don't. Instead, type the correct address directly into your browser, and access your account from there. Also, make sure the website has the secure “green lock” icon in the address bar. Never enter your login information into a return email, text or instant message. And if you're still in doubt, ring the institution in question directly.

2. Ransomware

Ransomware is one of the fastest-growing cybersecurity threats on mobile devices today. By visiting a website infected with the necessary virus, your web pages can be locked down, and taken over by a rather alarming warning. In most cases, the gist of the message is: pay up, or else. Some people are warned that they've unwittingly accessed illegal material and that a payment is needed to stop legal action.

If your browser is ever locked by such a message, never ever contact the organisation mentioned in the warning message. Instead, treat the issue as a virus or malware. Try to close down your browser, and clear your cache. And never visit the site in question again. If the problem remains, run an antivirus scan, and remove the offending code. If this doesn't do the trick, you might need to take your device to a reputable specialist.

3. Man in the Middle Attacks

So-called “man in the middle attacks” are perpetrated by malware that lives inside most computers without their owners suspecting a thing. When you sign into an important account (such as your online banking account), the malware redirects you to a different server — while making you think you're using a legitimate service. Of course, everything you enter from that point on is collected by fraudsters, including passwords, account numbers and data that can be used to steal your identity.

Man in the middle attacks are on the rise, and they tend to target online banking and other financial services. Whenever you log in to such a service, do so via a virtual private network (VPN) client. Not only will your data be encrypted at service by a VPN, your presence online will be hidden from view.

4. Advertisement Fraud

Advertisement fraud is often perpetrated by automated bots and can strike at any time. The problem takes many forms, but it often involves the embedding of malicious code within ad code. This often escapes simple scans and protections, but the effects can be devastating.

In some cases, an ad can redirect a user to a phishing site, or a site used for illicit purposes — including gambling and pornography. If you're experiencing issues, there are some very reliable ad blockers on the market — some of which are free. They block all known ad code, so you won't see any advertisements on the sites you visit.

5. The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is already here, and it involves a combination of artificial intelligence, always-on technology and constant communication with other parties. Just a few years ago, the only thing connected to the Internet in the average home would have been a large desktop computer. Now, however, routers, phones, tablets, fridges, TVs, washing machines and a host of household appliances are connected — and they're constantly sending and receiving information.

According to SecurityIntelligence, 70% of Internet-connected devices have serious security flaws — making them vulnerable to hackers and fraudsters. As homes now channel all of these devices through hubs, a flaw in just one device means a flaw in them all. Protect yourself from these threats by choosing different passwords for different appliances. Keep the passwords long, and keep them recorded on paper in a secure place.

6. Bitcoin and the Blockchain

Cybercriminals love blockchain currencies such as Bitcoin. Transactions involving Bitcoin leave very little traceable information behind. These currencies aren't regulated in the way others are, and once they're gone, the rightful owners can do very little to get them back.

If you're paying for goods and services using crypto, be very careful about the URLs you're clicking. Bitcoin payment pages are vulnerable, as they look real, as does the address. But enter your private key on a compromised page, and you'll probably lose your crypto forever. You should only use this type of payment method if you're knowledgeable about both the blockchain and cybersecurity — as banks and governments never underwrite losses.

7. Social Media Scams

Social media scams have grown increasingly popular in recent years, as they're so hard to stop. They target the most financially vulnerable people using social media today, and the likes of Facebook and Twitter are struggling to stop them.

Such a scam usually begins with a very attractive and professional-looking advert about making money. To give the message some added credence, the scammers use fake testimonials from rich and successful celebrities. These ads include faked direct quotes, as well as a completely fabricated story. As the scams usually promise untold wealth, the most vulnerable social media users fall for them. Money is handed over to register or invest in completely fake schemes and is rarely seen again.

As fast as social media platforms shut these companies — and their ads — down, others pop up in their place. To stay safe, always research any claims yourself, using the Internet. Look for testimonials, reviews and customer experiences on independent forums and discussion boards. Always assume it's a scam, and you'll never succumb to it.

The top cybersecurity threats in the world today all target ordinary people, often in their own homes. Whether you use a VPN, software or your own knowledge and intuition, being prepared for the worst is always a great defence.

More information on how to stay safe online - VPNpro.com

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