Taking protection against cybercrime: simple steps

In today’s highly digitised world, protection against cybercrime has become a natural necessity. But a very small proportion of people who are “online” every day understand cybercrime fully well let alone taking precautionary steps against it.

Simply speaking, Cybercrime is the use of a computer as an instrument to further illegal ends, such as committing fraud, trafficking in child pornography and intellectual property, stealing identities or violating privacy. As such cybercrime is an attack on information about individuals, corporations or governments. Although the attacks do not take place on a physical body, they do take place on the personal or corporate virtual body. In other words, in the digital age our virtual identities are essential elements of everyday life: we are a bundle of numbers and identifiers in multiple computer databases owned by governments and corporations. Cybercrime highlights the centrality of networked computers in our lives, as well as the fragility of such seemingly solid facts as individual identity.

An important aspect of cybercrime is its non-geographical nature in that actions can occur in regions separated by vast distances. This makes it very difficult for law enforcement agencies since in order to effectively tackle it requires international cooperation. For example, if a person accesses child pornography located on a computer in a country that does not ban child pornography, is that individual committing a crime in a nation where such materials are illegal? Where exactly does cybercrime take place. As a global network, the Internet offers criminals multiple hiding places in the real world as well as in the network itself. However, just as individuals walking on the ground leave marks that a skilled tracker can follow, cybercriminals leave clues as to their identity and location, despite their best efforts to cover their tracks. In order to follow such clues across national boundaries, though, international cybercrime treaties must be ratified.

At our level, we are now handling more and more of our financial and business affairs online, via our desktops, laptops, tablets, and even phones. Thanks to the global lockdown this trend is on an upswing at a higher velocity than ever before. And cyber-crime—practices designed to breach a company’s or an individual’s computer security system and steal information and/or wreck havoc—just keeps on growing, perpetuated not just by thieves and scam artists, but by even political and social activists to spread their propaganda.

But what can ordinary internet users like you and me do about our protection? Well, thankfully, it’s not rocket science. Each one of us can take some steps ranging from very simple to somewhat advanced to ensure basic protection against cybercrime for ourselves, our families and our co-workers.

Let’s start with passwords. On any day, we probably log in about half a dozen times or more. Due to sheer convenience (read laziness) we tend to have the easiest password that our minds can remember. So, it could be my spouse’s name followed by my birthdate or sometimes myname followed numeric 1234. I recently read a report where the most common password of 2020 was ‘12345’ and it took less than a second to crack it. It’s understandable that you want your passwords to be easy to remember, but that’s putting your computer and your personal data and possibly your finances at huge risk. Passwords should be at least eight characters; include a combination of numbers, letters and symbols; and not be words related to you. You might also consider using a password manager, which assigns and stores unique, encrypted passwords for different sites for you. You log in to the manager, then it applies the password to the site. You don’t have to remember it—in fact, you don’t even know it—but since it’s not stored on the site, a hacker can’t get at it.

Be wary of the sites you visit on the Net. I agree that most of us don’t look for dubious sites when we browse but inadvertently, we may click on an advertisement or link that seems innocuous or even interesting and don’t mind giving our name, country of residence and mobile number for further information. There…you have already breached the security net. Similarly, going to hacker chatrooms, viewing adult content, or going to sites that you know are scams put you at higher risk for a cyberattack than staying with more trusted sites. So, stay out of corrupt neighbourhood….

Fraudulent emails and text messages are not only common, they’re getting increasingly convincing. If an e-mail or pop-up window asks you to enter your username or password, don’t do it. Instead, open your browser and go to the site directly. If you’re still not convinced, contact the company or entity that supposedly contacted you. Reputable companies will never ask you for your login information through an e-mail.

One of the most common ways hackers gain access to computer systems is via code defects (known as exploits). Some exploits remain unnoticed for years before they are patched, so if you do not update your software regularly, you could leave your networks vulnerable to anyone with a little bit of technical knowledge. Exploits can affect all software, from operating systems and browsers to specialized software and more. Bottomline – keep all your software regularly updated and patched.

Even if you use the latest antivirus and firewall software, you won’t be fully protected if your co-workers do not follow the rules of digital security. Over 90% of security breaches happen not as a result of hackers overcoming the network’s protection, but because an employee unwittingly opened up a door – for example, by using a weak password or falling victim to a phishing email. Investing in cutting-edge security software but failing to educate your employees in cybercrime prevention is tantamount to boarding up the windows while leaving the front door wide open.

Set up strict limitations on company computers – Make sure your employees cannot install unauthorized software on company computers without approval from your system administrator. This will help prevent malware from infecting your company’s network and reduce wasted time.

Cybersecurity can no longer be treated as an afterthought. A security breach can be catastrophic for any business or individual or household, even those without a strong digital presence. The best way to protect yourself is to prepare and follow some of the steps above. Prevention is always better than cure……

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