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Cybercrime: How Can I Protect Myself?

You have seen the word "cybercrime" in the news, or heard words like "phishing" or "malware."  Even if you don't know a lot about these terms, they represent very real threats to the global online community.  
You can keep yourself safe from cybercrime by knowing how criminals are using the information obtained, and the ways to avoid becoming a victim.  Read on to learn all the facts you need to stay safe.  


1. WHO ARE THE CYBERCRIMINALS ON THE WEB?

"Cybercrime" has become a buzzword in the media in the last few years.  You hear it everywhere, but what is it really?  Cybercrime is simply any crime committed with a "cyber" aspect to it.  This can be through a network, computer, or a hardware device like a USB flash drive.  The computer, network or device can be the target of a crime, or even the one causing it. The crime can be committed through these means, but can also extend to other locations, too.  

If someone does fall victim to cybercrime, how is his or her personal information used and by whom?
You may not be aware of this, but there are many secret black market groups on the Internet.  These communities contain message boards, or forums that allow criminals to make contact with each other to let them know they have information for sale.

Criminals find each other on these message boards, and then use email or instant message to exchange information like credit card numbers, email address lists, bank account information, and more.  Sometimes these types of message boards even contain information for potential criminals to learn how to commit cybercrimes!  

There may not be a lot of ways to prevent these kinds of black market communities from forming, but there are ways for you to prevent your information from being stolen and sold.  The next section details what you should be attentive to.


2. KINDS OF CYBERCRIME: PHISHING, SPYWARE and MALWARE

Phishing is a very common way criminals commit cybercrimes.  Phishing is a scam to steal your online username and password.  Phishing attacks work by tricking you into entering your username and password at a fake site that looks like your bank, your broker or employer. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (http://www.antiphishing.org), the United States is the top country hosting phishing sites.  

Spyware and malware (malicious software) are other words you should be familiar with.  These are nasty programs that someone sneaks onto your computer.  What they do ranges from really annoying, like feeding you a steady stream of advertisements, to very dangerous, like stealing your account numbers, user names and/or passwords as you type them in -- called keylogging.  Malware can redirect your browser to a phishing site when you try to go to your bank site, or even let someone remotely hijack your computer.  

But how does spyware and malware get onto your computers? Usually they get installed along with something else you are getting for "free" on the Web.  You think you are installing something innocent and useful, like a toolbar, a media player or encoder, or a file search tool.  The problem is you get the malware, too without knowing it.  Online service subscriptions can also be a malware source.  

Expected trends for 2010:
From 2002 to 2008, there was a 200 percent increase in malicious activity on the Internet, and threats are expected to grow.  In 2009 alone, Symantec discovered 1 million new threats (virus and worm variants, vulnerabilities, multiple malware variants, etc) that it had to resolve and expects this number to rise to 3 million by the end of 2010.*

These new threats are expected to move to new areas, too.  The more people use social media sites and mobile applications to communicate and make transactions, the more criminals are going to want to take advantage of this activity.  Social media sites like Facebook and Myspace are trying to get ahead of crime by instituting new and stricter privacy policies for their members.  Governments, too, are getting involved.  The United States Department of Homeland Security named October "National Cybersecurity Awareness Month," and offer many tips and resources on cybersecurity on its Web site, http://www.dhs.gov/files/programs/gc_1158611596104.shtm#3.   The U.S. Department of Justice has its own cybercrime Web site, at http://www.justice.gov/criminal/cybercrime/, which provides a number of resources including where citizens can report cyber-related crimes.  President Obama, too, recognizes the importance of cybersecurity, naming former Ebay and Microsoft executive Howard A. Schmidt to the position of Cybersecurity Coordinator of the United States.

While it is true that online crime happens every quarter of a second and one in five persons will be a victim of cybercrime or identity theft, there are many ways that you can protect yourself from being amongst these statistics. Read on to the next section to find out how you can protect yourself.

*Source: Symantec

 

3. PROTECT YOURSELF FROM CYBERCRIME

The Internet can be secure.  Keep in mind, virtually every business and government agency uses the Internet, often to view highly confidential and valuable information.  None of these actions could take place without Internet security.  But it is up to every individual and every organization to take the proper steps, and utilize the advanced technologies available, to make their personal experience with the Internet as secure as possible.

The most important way to protect your personal information from being compromised by cybercrime is to protect your computer.  Always use a firewall.  Also, always use one or two anti-spyware programs in addition to your anti-virus software, and keep them up to date.

Beyond protection of your computer, you can take action to protect yourself, too. First, don't reply to an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, and don't click on links in the message.  If you want to go to a bank or business's Web site, type the Web address into your browser yourself, and if you want to reach organization with which you do business, call the number on your financial statement.

A final protection mechanism to consider -- some kind of personal security device separate from your PC that is part of your login process to the Web sites you use.  This might be a card or USB token that uses smart card technology to safely identify you and make sure you are logging in to the real site.

 

SUMMING UP

Five things to remember about cybercrime

  • Cybercrime is any crime committed that has a "cyber" aspect to it - it can be with a computer or device, or over a network
  • Phishing attacks work by tricking you into entering your username and password at a fake site that looks like your bank, your broker or employer.
  • Malware and spyware can perform dangerous actions, like stealing your account numbers, user names and/or passwords as you type them in -- called keylogging.
  • The most important way to protect your personal information from being compromised by cybercrime is to protect your computer with a firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware protection
  • Cards or USB tokens that use smart card technology can be used to safely identify you and make sure you are logging in to the real Web site

 

For more information, see:
Is the Internet secure?
If the Internet is secure, why are there Internet security problems?
To whom can I report online Internet crimes?
How can I protect my digital identity on the Internet?
How can I protect myself when banking online?
What is the best way to prevent phishing?
How do I prevent spyware and malware?

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