This month has been European Cyber Security Month. The annual EU campaign aims to raise awareness of cyber security threats; promote cyber security among citizens and organisations; and provide resources to protect people online, through education and sharing of good practices. With cybercrime on the rise, we look at the scams that need to be on your radar and what you can do to better protect your data.
What types of cybercrime should individuals be aware of?
While cybercrimes vary, these are the most common types and how they can affect you:
- Online identity theft and fraud – This involves someone obtaining unauthorised access to your personal details to steal from you or commit a crime. You could be tricked into sharing private information by email or a call, for example; your correspondence may be physically taken; or someone could snoop over your shoulder while you’re online or using your phone. Signs you may have been a victim include noticing anything unusual, such as credit cards arriving that you haven’t applied for; suddenly being denied credit; or seeing entries on your bank statement that you can’t account for.
- Webcam hackers – Not only can criminals hack your webcam, but also anything connected to your network, including any home or business security system you may have set up. Victims have often clicked on suspicious email links, downloaded files from unknown senders, or been in conversation with someone online and let something slip that has led to a data breach.
- Screenshot manager – In the same way as hackers access your webcam, so too can they screenshot your computer. They are then able to extract important information that they can then use to commit crime. Again, victims of such security breaches may have accidentally clicked on a bogus link or downloaded a file from a suspicious source.
- Ransomware: Ransomware cyber attacks have gone up a gear this year, with attacks on the rise and the perpetrators now multi-million-pound criminal gangs. Ransomware is the term given to malicious software viruses that hijack files, blocking access to or even encrypting the data before victims are threatened by their data being permanently inaccessible or published unless a ransom is paid. As with most cybercrimes, it is usually caused by someone downloading or opening an infected file attachment. For advice on what to do if you think you’re a victim of a ransomware attack, read here
- Keylogging or keyboard capturing: While keylogging programmes that record or log the keys struck on a keyboard are legal, they can be used illegally to covertly access your passwords or steal credit card information. It’s the online equivalent of someone stood over your shoulder watching you type in your passwords There are two types of keyloggers – physical (or hardware) and virtual (or software) – with most keylogging crimes committed virtually.
- Phishing: The primary focus of phishing is to get hold of your money, whether by email, phone or website. With software installed on your computer, likely via a potentially dangerous email attachment, the criminals waste no time in retrieving any valuable information they can get their hands on. Beware of emails requesting sensitive information, links and attachments. Check the email addresses of senders, rather than just the name that appears in your inbox, and if you spot a spelling mistakes in the email then alarm bells should ring.
- Ad clicker: These cyber crimes involve adverts that have been created by criminals in an attempt to force you to click on a specific link, which is often malware.
- Hacking: Hackers, essentially, break into computer systems and gain unauthorised access to information or files on a system in order to disrupt or cause problems.
- DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks: DDoS attacks are often targeted at businesses or public bodies and force the unavailability of an online service by overwhelming its website traffic from many different sources. The aim is not necessarily to steal information but could be to exact revenge, blackmail or protest against or for something happening. You’ll know if you’ve been affected by an unusually slow network speed, inaccessible websites and a sudden explosion in spam emails.
What can I do to prevent becoming a victim of cybercrime?
It’s not all bad news. There are plenty of fairly simple precautions individuals and businesses can take to avoid being a victim of these types of crime. They include:
- Install and regularly update reputable anti-virus software
- Always use a firewall
- Use strong passwords
- Always vary your password (don’t have your pet’s name for everything)
- Don’t give out personal or sensitive information. Your bank won’t ask you for sensitive information through email or by phone, so do nothing and check with your bank or the supposed business contacting you before you give out any information
- Back up your files, regularly. It won’t prevent you becoming a victim but it will limit the damage such a cyber attack could inflict on you.
- Use common sense. If you don’t know the sender of an email promising you vast sums of money, if you’re suddenly getting told by email that an account has been jeopardised, or it seems too good to be true, it’s probably a virus.
- Scrutinise your emails to make sure they’re from a reliable source and if you’re still not sure, don’t be afraid to contact a company or person to ask. Strange email addresses and spelling mistakes are often common in phishing scams, but they are becoming more sophisticated.
If you think you have been a victim of fraud or cybercrime, then contact Action Fraud, the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre.