Think it takes a genius to be a hacker? Think again. Exploit kits, the viruses and malware that subvert computing devices, are sold by the millions to buyers all over the world. These highly sophisticated kits have the power to make anyone a cybercriminal, including your next door neighbor or babysitter. Think about that the next time you leave your PC unlocked and unattended.
Here are five actionable steps you can take right now to stay protected:
1. Avoid Clicking that Mysterious Email
“Eliminate Financial Stress.”
“Claim your $50 Amazon Gift Card.”
These are real examples of subject lines from phishing emails. Phishing is a common hoax used by cybercriminals posing as real companies to steal your financial information. Always check the sender’s address, and beware of senders whose email addresses are closely related to legitimate businesses. Do your due diligence by reporting any phishing emails to the FBI through the FBI’s “Be Crime Smart” division, and never ever click links you’re unsure of.
2. Don’t Forget to Back Up Your Hard Drive
On February 5th, The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center’s entire computer system was held hostage in lieu of a $17,000 ransom. Having no other options, the medical center was forced to pay. This is a new form of malware aptly named Ransomware, and it doesn’t discriminate. It attacks individuals, businesses, and even healthcare institutions (putting actual human lives at risk).
Because there wasn’t a backup in place, the medical center was forced to pay the ransom.
According to a quarterly report released by McAfee Labs, ransomware cases have increased 165 percent since the first quarter of 2015. Again, this is caused by cybercriminals accessing these easy-to-use exploit kits. The danger is extremely real, so do yourself a favor and back up your PC whenever you’ve stored anything of value.
3. Don’t Shop with Your Bank or Credit Cards
Shopping online has become increasingly dangerous, as can be noted by the numerous hacking reports filed each year. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 269,422 complaints in 2014, which represents more than $800,000,000 in losses. Because most victims don’t report online crimes, it can be assumed this number is far greater.
For this reason, it’s beneficial to use “virtual credit cards.” Sometimes called single-use credit cards, virtual cards use alias credit card numbers. Your real account numbers are never revealed; although, the account is charged and you can set limits on what’s deposited on the card. Discover, Bank of America, and Citibank all offer virtual cards. Alternatively, you can add cash to a prepaid gift card found in the checkout lanes of many popular retailers, including Walmart and Target.
4. Avoid Logging in with Admin Rights
If you’re using your PC as an administrator, you’re unnecessarily putting it in harm’s way. Administrator accounts are more susceptible to security attacks. The easiest way to protect yourself is to surf the web using a low privilege, non-administrative account.
Indiana University calls this the “practice of least privilege.” It’s your greatest defense against hackers who wish to infiltrate your PC’s most sensitive files. Should a hacker find a way into this account, he will find little that satisfies. And, there will be no way to create new accounts with administrative access.
5. Invest in High-Quality Security Measures
Unfortunately, exploit kits are only growing in their ability to overtake virus and malware protection software. According to a 2015 Dell Security Report, there were more than 2.17 trillion Intrusion prevention system (IPS) attacks last year. What’s more? This is a whopping 73 percent increase compared to 2014. The reality is that this percentage will not get smaller unless everyone takes actionable steps to protect their systems.
While installing antivirus software is a good first step, you can further ensure the security of your network by using cloud based cyber security software that blocks communication to bad IP addresses or domains. By preventing communication you can reduce the risk of cyber criminals infiltrating your PCs and gaining access to sensitive data.