There are few situations as unnerving as finding out that you’ve been the victim of a data breach. A seasoned hacker may only need a few pieces of your personal data to do things like drain your bank account or simply monitor your email correspondence.
While the threat of a cyberattack is always present when you have information stored online, there are actions you can take in order to better protect yourself.
Make strong passwords
Strong passwords are perhaps your most important line of defense against hackers. When trying to access your accounts online, many cybercriminals will use brute force or other techniques to try and guess what your login credentials are. If you’re the kind of person who uses “123456” or “qwerty” to unlock your account, all you’re doing is making life easier for these nefarious individuals. On top of that, it’s vital to use a unique phrase for each site that you rely on, as hackers very often break into one account and then try the same credentials on other websites.
When you decide to create a new password, you’ll need to include both uppercase and lowercase words, numbers and symbols and you’ll want to make sure the phrase is on the longer side. Exactly how long you go is up to you, but 10 characters is a decent length. It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t want to use full words that you can find in the dictionary, as hackers have ways of quickly checking for these.
The best way to go about creating a password is to actually condense a longer sentence. Something like “I want to take a tour through Europe but I don’t have the money” is easy to remember if that’s something you really want to do, and it could easily be shortened to “Iw2tattEbIdht$.” This password is long and there is very little chance that a hacker would be able to quickly guess it.
Use HTTPS when you can
One hacking technique that cybercriminals love to fall back on is called a man-in-the-middle attack. This is basically where the hackers find a way to intercept the data that you’re transferring over the internet. If you’re the kind of person who likes to shop online, this can become a huge problem, as this allows the outside person to pick up your credit card information when you finally decide to check out.
Thankfully, cybersecurity experts have come up with a solution in the form of HTTPS encryption. This technology scrambles any information you send to a company that utilizes HTTPS, thereby making it impossible for the hacker to see what data your moving. What’s more, it’s incredibly easy to see if a site uses HTTPS. Just look at the far left portion of the URL bar. If you see a little green lock, your connection is secured.
Don’t bite the phishing hook
It takes a very specific personality to get interested in cybersecurity. You need to be highly logical, able to adapt to new technologies and most of all, you need to be all about efficiency. Computers in general are designed to make life easier, so it stands to reason that hackers would be all about taking the path of least resistance. Therefore, it’s easy to see why one of the most effective tools in a cybercriminal’s arsenal is phishing.
A phishing campaign boils down to simply asking the victim to either provide the information you’re looking for via email or even getting them to click a malicious link. This often involves the hacker disguising himself as a reputable source, such as a bank or news organization. These individuals often go so far as to make the messages look legitimate with images of the company’s logo. Zinaida Benenson, of Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, discovered in a study that people are more than twice as likely to fall for a phishing scam when the attacker used their first name in the email.
Additionally, many hackers have also started to incorporate something called ransomware into their phishing campaigns. This specific malware variant is designed to encrypt all of your data, effectively locking you out of your files until you pay up. A study from PhishMe found that in Q1 2016, 93 percent of phishing emails had ransomware attachments.
When it comes to phishing, all you can really do is stay alert. Always double-check the sender’s address to ensure it’s coming from a legitimate source, and never click a link in an email from a stranger. Services such as Gmail even allow you to preview where the link will take you by hovering your cursor over it.
Although there are all kinds of specific tips you can follow to avoid getting hacked, at the end of the day you simply need to stay vigilant. Paying attention to what you’re doing online and what kinds of techniques cybercriminals are using is an absolute necessity, and it could save you a major headache down the road.
If you take the time to do this, you might even come to find that cybersecurity is your calling. While this is certainly a good thing, as the job opportunities and compensation are incredible in this field, you will need additional training to find work. Thankfully, Maryville University has bachelor’s and master’s degree program, taught by experienced educators that have spent years working in the field.