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Cybersecurity Basics

Updated: Sep 23, 2023

Cybersecurity is crucial in the modern world. With a plethora of scams and attacks occurring daily you need to know how to protect yourself. In this article we will go over some of the most common attacks and how to protect yourself.


Phishing

Have you ever got an email that seemed a bit off? Maybe the IRS sent you an email asking you to give them apple gift card codes, or UPS emailed you about a package you don't remember ordering? Phishing is when an attacker sends you an email pretending to be a legitimate business or agency in an attempt to steal your information and is the most common way data breaches occur. While phishing generally refers to emails other similar attacks are Smishing (phishing over text message) and Vishing (phishing via a phone call). So what should you be on the look out for to not fall for these malicious attempts to steal your information?

  • Check spelling and grammar. Many phishing attacks will use poor grammar and spelling that are far less common in official communications

  • Hover over links. While the text link may read www.irs.gov, if you hover you mouse over it you will see the actual URL it leads too. If that URL is anything other than irs.gov, I.E www.freesites.com/ads8ujf#m52%.htm, you have a phishing email

  • If you have any suspicions, contact the company or agency directly. Do not use links provided but rather go to the site directly or through a search engine, or better yet, call and ask. This also helps report these scams so appropriate actions can be taken.

  • Never open attachments you aren't sure about. If you weren't expecting an attachment, do not open it. Even something like a word document can contain embedded code that could cause data spillage.

Ransomware

Ransomware has been the "IT Boogeyman" in the news cycle in recent years. These devastating attacks can lock up entire computers and networks preventing legitimate access to the data. This happens due to malicious software that often self replicates to multiple computers and after a certain amount of time encrypts the entire system locking you out. Frequently when you try and access the computer you will see a ransom message stating that if you pay (typically in bitcoin) the attacker will unlock your computer. DO NOT PAY THE RANSOM! There is no way to ensure they will follow through after payment, and many will take the money and run. So how do you beat this terrifying attack? Backups. Keeping frequent backups of crucial information (i.e. cloud backups, offsite, etc) allows you to simply wipe the infected machines and restore from backup completely negating the effects of the ransomware. Always keep business critical and irreplicable files and data backed up.


Malware

This overarching term is short for Malicious Software, which includes viruses, spyway, adware, and the above mentioned ransomware. The reason this type of software is often referred to as a virus is because it behaves in much the same way. It infects and hides in files, often replicates, and when the right conditions are met, destroys, copies, or modifies data. There are far to many ways you can be exposed to this to list here but you're in luck. Many software solutions exist to block, find, and destroy malware protecting you and your data. While this software used to be mostly based on lists of known files technology has advanced. Many modern day solutions not only have a list of known viruses but also use what is called heuristic detection. Heuristic detection works like an inoculation, its an algorithm that knows how common attacks work and scans for software that shows similar code, just like a vaccine teaches your immune system to recognize viruses in the body. Just like vaccines, this only works if you keep your antivirus software up to date so that it has the most recent information to protect your system.


Scams

Another very common attack are scams. While phishing is one type that targets your data directly, there are many types of scams on the internet. The adage "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is" definitely applies here. Always use vigilance when dealing with any sales people, "experts" or other individuals who are with organizations your are unfamiliar with, or claiming to be with well known organizations and making wonderous offers that you haven't heard about. Many people will make big promises to get money, information, or trade from you only to vanish once they've received what they wanted. One key thing to look for that seems to be very common is gift cards. No reputable company will ever ask you to go to the store and buy gift cards in exchange for goods or services. The Federal Trade Commission keeps a list of the latest scams, and its not a bad idea to protect yourself with this knowledge.




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