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How to Protect Yourself From Major Cybersecurity Threats

This article was adapted from the Your Money Vehicle textbook.

Cyberattacks occur every day. In fact, a study done at the University of Maryland quantified that there is a cybersecurity attack every 39 seconds! They are often perpetrated by amateurs operating out of their own living rooms.

With new threats being developed by hackers every day, the internet can feel a bit like the Wild West. Luckily, by taking the simple precautions I’ll describe in this article, you can begin to protect your information—and your money—from the most common cybersecurity threats.

What Are the Major Types of Cybersecurity Threats?

Cybersecurity has been called “a problem with no solution” because the only way to stop it completely is by not using the internet. Leaving the grid is not an option we are willing to accept, so we must better understand the risks and how we can best protect ourselves. 

For starters, let’s go over two major types of cybersecurity threats.

Malware, or Malicious Software

Back at the beginning of cyberattacks, people created software with malicious intent. Some of it was meant for anarchy and some for ransom, but it was all meant to disrupt the operations on your computer. 

This old type of attack begins by uploading a “worm” onto your computer. The worm is a self-replicating algorithm that seeks out vulnerabilities in your operating system and infects them. The worm then spreads to as many systems as it can breach, until you detect the virus. Typically, the victim will notice a slowing in their computer’s speed or that their computer has become incapable of completing certain tasks. 

Once hackers realized that they could get into operating systems, they began to release ransomware. This type of malware gains access to your operating system, then locks you out. The program will hold your own computer ransom until you pay for its release. 

You can avoid many instances of malware by not clicking on suspicious links or opening emails from unfamiliar senders, not downloading files from questionable sources, and keeping your operating system and antivirus software up to date. 

What’s scary about malware is that it can infect your computer system without any human intervention. However, security stepped up and antivirus programs improved, which didn’t make the hackers very happy. 

Enter the next evolution of attacks.

Social Engineering

This form of attack relies on the mental manipulation of its victims to divulge their personal information, not malicious software. The attack attempts to trick you into handing over information or simply allowing the hacker access to your computer. 

Malware can be completed without your knowledge or intervention. Social engineering depends on you to lower your guard and give the attacker the information. Shockingly, 95% of cybersecurity breaches are not caused by a failure in the IT department but occur by human oversight and error.

Imagine walking into McDonald’s and seeing a sign marked “Order to the Left.” Usually, you walk straight up to the counter, but the sign has the McDonald’s logo on it, and when you look over to the left side, there is a cashier waiting to take your order, so you go ahead. After you place your order, the cashier says, “Your rewards program has been locked out, and they need your password.” 

Wait, why does McDonald’s need my password, and why are the cashiers not where they usually are? 

If these thoughts flow through your head, then you are on the right track. If you trust Mcdonald’s, then you will feel obligated to give them your information. Do not worry if this is you, because you are not alone. These attacks are designed to make things feel just comfortable enough that you don’t think to ask those interrogation questions. 

Avoid falling victim to a social engineering attempt by maintaining a healthy amount of skepticism in all your online transactions. If someone reaches out to you, seems interested in the information they shouldn’t need, or claims to be someone without evidence, seek verification that they are who they say they are. 

Prioritize Your Protection

Protecting yourself online is exponentially more important today because we are living in the age of information. Once you put information out there, you can never get it back. 

If any of the personal information that you post on social media ends up in the wrong hands, it can haunt you forever, so be careful with what you share online. Most importantly, if something triggers your suspicion alarm, it’s worth investigating further or avoiding altogether to protect your identity and bank accounts from being stolen.

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