Our emails, online accounts, personal information, business data, and just about everything we do on our smartphones and computers are at risk of being hacked, stolen, and used against us. There are over 30 billion Internet-connected devices on the planet, and every one of them is a target for cyberattack. But why?
Our data is valuable. With just a few bits of personal information such as first name, last name, city, and state, anyone can pull a background check. By adding age, places lived, or relatives, the search can pin-point an exact target and disclose everything on the public record; such as:
- How much money we make
- Where we currently live
- What our spending habits are
- Who we most care about
- When we will be most vulnerable
- Why we use the Internet the way we do
These facts become a profile hackers can use as a risk assessment for stealing our identity, money, or worse.
Whether we only have a few hundred dollars in the bank or tens of thousands in savings or investments, a low-risk target is easy pickings. If our passwords are weak (something easy to remember), our pockets and wallets are wide open.
In a business setting, our data’s value is incalculable because our employees, clients, and vendors’ livelihoods are at risk if we get breached. Our proprietary intellectual property and everything that gives us a competitive advantage or even just a foothold in the market are also at risk. Our reputation, online presence, finances, and everything else that makes us, us – could be taken away in a moment.
Hackers are thieves, plain and simple. They’ve been around since the beginning of the human race and steal for a variety of reasons. Like any criminal, hackers could easily use our information to commit a physical attack, and many do. Still, it’s also less risky to hide behind a keyboard and mask their location to steal from numerous targets simultaneously.
There are numerous ways that hackers can breach our defenses to steal our information. The two most common are through spyware, which secretly installs itself into an Internet-connected device to search, record, and transmit key data points automatically or through manual attempts to gain access.
Spyware, malware, phishing emails, and other types of viruses are programs written explicitly to gain access to our devices. However, like all programs, they need to be installed, which requires some form of initiated action. When we click a link, download a file, or close a pop-up, we can unknowingly launch the install.
LAYERS OF PROTECTION
Antivirus, anti-spyware, and anti-malware programs monitor suspicious activity and warn us or stop it before it can do any harm. But not all protection software is equal. They each maintain a database of known threats, among other tricks of the trade, and their protection is only as good as their investment in proactive research to find and combat the newest cyberattacks.
These programs are an effective weapon in defense of this specific breach attempt, but we need an arsenal to combat every type of concern. Here are some others:
- Access the Internet through a VPN tool, turn off our GPS services, and encrypt our communications. Hackers mask their location in various ways, and we should do it too.
- Ensure our computers are up to date with the latest patches, bug fixes, and upgrade recommendations. Older computers and software are not capable of utilizing the latest technological advancements in cyber threat prevention.
- Never email sensitive information to anyone for any reason. Email is not secure. Even if our computer is protected, as is the one receiving the email, too many unprotected steps occur between sending and receiving.
- Use multi-factor authentication wherever possible. When we require our smartphones, computers, banking apps, online accounts, social media platforms, and more to authenticate our identity beyond just a single password, we make it difficult for someone, somewhere else, to gain access.
- Remain vigilant about closing old accounts, deleting unnecessary files, and routinely scrubbing our Internet history. If our information exists in even one location we forget to protect, it becomes an open window.
We can do everything right and still get hacked because of the one thing we couldn’t change- our password practices. We use passwords and pin codes all day, every day. It’s annoying, right? We know who we are, and we aren’t thinking like a criminal, so while we appreciate that our bank or our shopping apps, or our business platforms want to protect us, we just want to get on with our day.
Since virtually everything we do is online now, the average person maintains over 100 different accounts. That’s 100 windows for a hacker to crawl through, yet we lock them with weak, easy-to-remember passwords because they are out of sight, out of mind. A good rule of thumb is never to use a word, phrase, or date or even try to be clever with special characters to form a word, phrase, or date. Instead, we should randomly generate our passwords into nonsensical strings of at least 10-12 characters using every case and character type. Of course, we won’t ever remember it, but that’s the point; we aren’t supposed to.
Two tools will make our digital lives exceptionally easier while at the same time making it extremely difficult for hackers to get in.
- Password Generators – there are many programs on the web that will randomly generate a strong, extremely difficult-to-hack password. The longer, the better.
- Password Manager – numerous reputable companies offer free and paid password wallets, vaults, and management tools, allowing us to securely save our username and password for every website automatically upon logging in the first time. The only catch is that since it will store all of our credentials for all of our accounts, we will want the tightest security level to access the program itself. Using our smartphone biometric readers or multiform authentication to do this is the best way to stay protected.
There are many other ways to guard against online attacks, but each precaution adds a layer of protection. And it goes back to the hacker’s risk assessment. The harder they have to work to get our data, the less likely they will want to spend the time exposing themselves to the potential of getting caught. Conversely, the more valuable our assets, the more willingly these thieves will want to get at them, so we must remain vigilant.
A final word of advice. If you believe you are in jeopardy of being hacked, having your identity stolen, or your business data breached, contact Consul-vation. We can analyze your needs, recommend a plan, and implement viable solutions.