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Ten tips to avoid a cyber mugging

Published on 12/01/2018

Wherever shoppers lurk, pickpockets and thieves are sure to follow, both at the mall and on the Web. So here are some tips for you and your readers to protect yourselves as we head into the annual post-Thanksgiving online shopping extravaganza:

1. Have a quick chat with your family about cyber awareness. The way that most cyber crooks take advantage of you is by lulling you into a false sense of security. Teach the most common ways that the bad guys get onto your systems to steal your personal information, and urge caution online.

2. Speaking of which: be wary of opening attachments to emails sent by people you don’t know. Cyber thieves often hide malware in these attachments: openi the attachment and your machine gets infected.

3. Also be careful about clicking on links to unfamiliar websites, and steer clear of websites that contain questionable content like pirated music, movies or software. Visit an infected site, and malware can be loaded onto your system without you even knowing it: it’s called a drive-by download.

4. Be careful with the personal information you share on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Clever cyber thieves will comb these sites for tips about your personal life to try to fool you into trusting them. For example, you may get a malicious email that looks like it’s from someone in your college’s alumni association, so you are more likely to trust it, click on it, and come down with a malware infection.

5. Be aware of the nastiest, fastest-growing malware threat in the world this year: ransomware. The way this malware works is by infecting your machine, locking up all of your files – photos, videos, music, financial documents, emails, apps, everything – with unbreakable encryption, then demanding that you send money to your attackers in return for the key to restore your files. You’re in for a big, expensive headache if this stuff gets into your machines or mobile devices; in many cases, you might lose your data forever, even if you do pay the extortion. Some ransomware viruses are even capable of spreading to other devices over your home network.

6. Keep an eye out for another fast-growing malware threat known as cryptojacking, even though it is less serious than ransomware. What gets downloaded to your system is an app or browser script that quietly runs on your system to execute a process called cryptomining, which is a way to collect a bounty by helping to verify transactions in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Your system’s processing power and electricity are being stolen to help some stranger earn profits they will not share with you. It’s a petty crime, like a stranger siphoning a cup of gas out of your car’s tank every night, but it will affect your system’s performance, you will pay for the power used, and the costs will add up over time.

7. Be wary of sharing sensitive information (like paying for an online purchase with a credit card) when using public machines (like library computers) and public networks (like your local café’s Wi-Fi). These are common places to hide eavesdropping malware that can steal your private data.

8. Get smarter about the passwords you use to log onto e-commerce sites. Many retailers don’t do a good job of protecting your information that gets temporarily stored there, so if they get breached, the thieves can try to use your password and account name on other sites. If you use different passwords for each site, you will thwart that attack. Longer, simpler passwords that you can remember without writing down are better than shorter, complicated ones, e.g., “Itsybitsyspiderwhenupthewaterspout” is harder to crack than “Its!yb#14. Consider using a password manager like the free Password Safe app to keep your passwords secure.

9. Install anti-virus software on your machine and keep its signature file up-to-date. Even the free ones out there are better than no AV at all. This will help detect and stop the most basic threats.

10. To defend yourself against more sophisticated attacks, buy a good data protection product to back up your systems and store backup copies in three places, ideally one in an offsite location (in case the primary home copy is destroyed) and another in the cloud. In the event you get infected, you can restore your machine from a recent backup.

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