There’s a good chance words like “cybersecurity” and “hacking” are floating around the minds of Atlanta’s internet users in light of the recent ransomware attack on the city’s computer network or the data breaches that affected Equifax customers.
In 2014, 47 percent of adults in the U.S. had some of their personal information exposed by hackers, and a recent Gallup poll showed that 67 percent of Americans worry “frequently or occasionally” about cybercrime.
Falling victim to cybercrime is a scary thought, but there are steps people can take to protect themselves from malicious agents on the internet. WABE has compiled a guide to common internet crimes with tips on how Atlantans can avoid falling victim to them.
Ransomware attacks affect victims large and small. It was a ransomware attack that left Atlantans without the ability to pay their bills for days in March, but these attacks can affect individual users’ computers as well. Once they’re running on someone’s machine, ransomware programs take control of the computer and threaten to restrict access to it indefinitely unless a ransom is paid.
Ransomware enters a computer or network either by “exploiting a security hole in vulnerable software or by tricking someone to install it,” according to internet security company Norton.
Victims of ransomware might find themselves compelled to pay the money asked of them to get their data back, but the FBI states that’s exactly what a user should not do. Ransomware should be removed by a “computer professional” because even when the malware appears to be gone, it could still be working in the background.
Phishing is the act of luring in users with emails or phone calls that appear to be innocuous but are actually sent to trick users into giving away access to their computers, according to Microsoft. Phishing scams usually originate in spam emails or phone calls from people claiming to be with companies such as Microsoft saying they need to gain access to a user’s machine.
It is relatively simple for attackers to disguise the emails they send to look like they originate from someplace official, be it a company’s IT department or even Microsoft itself.
Clicking on a seemingly harmless link in an email can be a trigger to install malware or a route for hackers to access personal information. In 2017, phishing scammers managed to steal the paychecks of 27 Atlanta Public Schools employees, costing the district nearly $300,000, according to the AJC.
Microsoft recommends a few best practices for staying away from phishing scams: make sure to hover over links before clicking on them to be sure they go where they say they do. Be wary of official-looking emails that are full of spelling or grammar mistakes and be sure to double-check spelling on URLs that look official because a slightly misspelled web address could lead somewhere dangerous.
All it took to put 56 million credit cards at risk and create $62 million in costs was a set of stolen log-on credentials for the computer network of Atlanta-based Home Depot, according to USA Today.
In addition to the credit card information that was stolen from self-checkout counters in Home Depot stores, millions of email addresses were stolen, leading to victims being at risk of further phishing scams.
One thing to remember is that, according to Experian, even though someone might be a victim of a data breach, they are not necessarily a victim of identity theft. The three steps the business services company recommends for people who have fallen victim to this are closely monitoring credit history and looking out for new accounts, keeping track of Social Security benefits and monitoring tax returns for unusual activity.
Denial Of Service Attacks
A Denial of Service, or DoS attack, is when an attacker attempts to take down a computer or network by targeting it with a barrage of requests. Every attempt to access a website by typing a URL or clicking a link is a request, but large numbers of these at the same time can overload a server and prevent legitimate users from accessing a website or its content, according to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team.
In 2016, the University of Georgia’s internet was brought to a halt by a Denial of Service attack that “saturated” the university’s internet capacity of 20 gigabytes per second of data, blocking all access to the internet for everyone on campus, according to the AJC.
These attacks are difficult to prevent, simply because they take advantage of the way a server works. But many of these attacks utilize networks called botnet, which are computers connected by the same piece of malware that can all be used at the same time. While a user may not be able to prevent a DoS attack against a network, they could potentially avoid their computer becoming the newest member of a botnet by remaining wary of phishing scams and ensuring their antivirus software is up to date.
While anyone can be the victim of cybercrime, there are a few helpful tips to keep in mind. Norton recommends practices such as using long, difficult-to-guess passwords, keeping your network secured and using a full-service internet security suite.