How to protect yourself from cybercrime

Cybercrime is on the rise. With ransomware attacks and threats to personal information increasing, how can we be sure we're safe?

Be password smart: It might be annoying to have to come up with complex passwords but it could save you trouble in the long run.
Be password smart: It might be annoying to have to come up with complex passwords but it could save you trouble in the long run.

It’s one of the fastest growing crimes – and worryingly, experts are warning that it’s not a case of ‘if’ we fall victim, but ‘when’.

Cybercrime has hit some of the world’s biggest organisations proving that even those who you might think have the best protection can be vulnerable.

A cyberattack can cause chaos: customers’ personal information may be compromised or, as was the case recently with an attack on the NHS, held to ransom.

But it’s not just large businesses that are affected. Small businesses are just as attractive to unscrupulous attackers. Indeed, everyone who uses the digital world – from banking to communicating, shopping, playing games and listening to music to storing our favourite photographs – is just as much of a target for cyber criminals.

The National Crime Agency estimates the cost of cybercrime to the UK economy amounts to billions of pounds every year – and the problem is growing. It says there are millions of individual victims, many thousands of corporate victims and correspondingly substantial losses.

It has also warned that the pace of technology and criminal cyber capability development has grown faster than we’ve been able to respond, describing it as a ‘cyber arms race’.

According to Ben Carr, technical manager of IT security and storage experts Altinet, we’re all in the cross-hairs of cybercrime gangs.

“Everyone is a target, it’s a case of when, not if, you might fall victim,” he warns.

“Businesses may find it difficult to keep up to date with the latest ‘state of the art’ protection that can help ward off an attack, while individuals may just think that it’s something that happens to other people, when, in fact, everyone is at risk.”

Here Ben gives his expert advice on how to we can give ourselves the best chance of not becoming a victim.

1. Be password smart: It might be annoying to have to come up with complex passwords but it could save you trouble in the long run. Change your passwords regularly, avoid words that a quick trawl through social media could easily link to you, such as your children’s names or your date of birth. And don’t share passwords across various accounts.

2. Stay alert: Our mobile phones, laptops and tablets contain a lot of information, so keep them close to hand. Be careful when using a public wifi, as hackers can easily tap in to capture traffic and syphon off a lot of personal information. Keep your firewall on and blocking unwelcome intruders.

3. Be click conscious: Don’t just happily click on every link and attachment in your email inbox. Some can be very cleverly designed to look as if they have come from a bank or utility company but could be hiding a virus that’s ready to infiltrate your equipment. Don’t give out personal information in response to an email, or a pop up that appears while browsing a website. Think before you click.

4. Get support: Businesses are particularly vulnerable because of the rapid advances in technology and the complexity of storing lots of data, networking and various users. Dealing with potential threats can be time consuming for IT departments and not always effective, so investing in professional support can make sense.

5. Shop carefully: Online shopping is becoming the norm, even for very large purchases. And most of us do much, if not all, of our banking online. Only shop or bank online using a device that belongs to you – that no one else has access to – and only use websites that you trust. Look for https:// at the start of addresses, which encrypts information.

6. Back it up: Back up your photographs, documents and files regularly either by saving it to a cloud-based storage or on an external hard drive that you can keep safe.

7. Stay up to date: Install updates as they arrive from your operating system; they usually contain data to protect against the latest threats. It was a lapse in ensuring updates were carried out on time that created a security hole in the NHS system, enabling ransomware to spread across the network.

8. Protect yourself: Install software that can identify potentially damaging emails, scanning them for spammers and malware, and ensuring any malicious links are flagged up – so you don’t accidentally open something that will cause problems. Keep any anti-virus software right up to date too.

Losing important and personal information to cybercriminals is devastating, particularly for businesses which have a requirement to protect clients’ data.

Leeds-based IT security experts Altinet have up to the minute support to help manage passwords, devices and a business’s online presence. It also provides storage and infrastructure support, and employee training.

Find out more here