It won’t be a surprise to anyone that the importance of the internet has become greater and greater over the last few years. Perhaps equally unsurprising, but a lot more problematic, is the ever increasing number of cybercriminals that exploit the possibilities the internet brings for illegal activities.
These days we use the internet for virtually anything. We share our personal information on social media. We take care of our banking needs online. Some even invest large amounts of money in overseas funds, all with the click of a button. These activities enable criminals to target unsuspecting digital citizens for crimes like phishing, identity theft, stealing sensitive information such as passwords, etc.
However, the good news is that not only cybercrime, but also awareness about this type of crime has greatly increased over the years. Although cybercrime is still a very real problem, there are numerous measures you can take to protect yourself against many potentially dangerous types of online crime. This article will highlight three of the most common and most dangerous types of cybercrime and what you can do to help protect yourself.
There are sources that claim phishing is the most common form of cybercrime.
Phishing relies on crafty social engineering where criminals pretend to be someone or part of an organization you know and trust to obtain money from you or sensitive information. It is a form of fraud that usually takes place via email, but other (online) communication methods, such as phone or chat can also be used.
A well-known phishing example which happens a lot all over the world, is bank-related phishing. This usually entails a criminal, pretending to be a representative of your bank, contacting you by phone or email to ask you for personal information such as your PIN or login details to your online banking environment. He or she will likely come up with a fake, but very plausible sounding story about an issue with your bank account that can only be resolved by you giving this person certain sensitive information.
Be aware that it’s very unlikely a (big) legitimate organisation will ask you to just give them your sensitive information by phone or email. Most serious organisations, such as banks, HMRC, insurance companies, etc., will have a strict policy when it comes to handling sensitive information and asking customers to email their PIN is usually not part of this policy…
Therefore, someone asking you for sensitive information on the phone or by email should be considered a direct warning sign you’re possibly dealing with a phisher.
Other things to pay attention to are non-personalised salutations, poor grammar and spelling or a very thick foreign accent, emails from addresses you don’t recognize or from generic rather than company email addresses (ending in gmail.com eg) and suspicious links and attachments in emails. All these things are possible signs you are dealing with a phisher.
Using malware is another common technique cybercriminals often use to attack their victims. There are many different forms of malware criminals can inject in their victims’ systems, with many different purposes.
Cybercriminals can, for instance, infect your computer with a keylogger to obtain your passwords as your typing them. Likewise, they could also obtain your sensitive information by infecting your device with spyware. And then there is of course ransomware, which essentially takes your computer hostage to scare you into transferring a (large) sum of money to some criminal’s bank account.
In other words, cybercriminals have a large arsenal of digital weaponry at their disposal. Fortunately, however, there are a few precautions you can take to greatly diminish your chances of falling prey to malware.
According to research presented by Finances Online (carried out by Verizon), most malware by far is spread through email correspondence: over 90 percent, in fact. In most cases, criminals spread malware via email by including harmful links for recipients to click on or attachments that contain malware. Malware that is spread outside of email correspondence often operates in a similar way. It is often spread when people click on URLs they find on web pages or download files.
That is why one of the most important anti-malware measures is to exercise caution when clicking on links and downloading files. Before you click on a link, especially if you don’t trust it, always hoover on a link until the address which it navigates to is displayed. If you are still unsure of whether you can trust the link, there are free tools you can use to check if the website is safe to visit, for example Norton’s Safe Web tool.
Another important tool to protect yourself against malware, is investing in reliable and effective anti-malware software. Good anti-malware software will never be able to replace common sense and caution. Rather, it should be viewed as a valuable tool to complement your instincts. Anti-malware programs are often not only able to protect you against malware real-time, but also perform scans of (part of) your pc at certain intervals or whenever you start a scan manually. When it detects a virus or other type of malware, it will make sure it’s quarantined as much as possible and give you the option to remove it. As such, using both common sense and a reliable anti-malware program is the best strategy to protect yourself against malware attacks from cybercriminals.
Identity theft might just be one of the most elusive types of cybercrime and of course of crime in general. It is very easy to fall victim to and it can be very challenging to find and persecute offenders.
One simple reason for this is that these days we share so much of our personal information online. Just think about everything we share on social media and all of the personal details we share when creating accounts for different services, sites and web shops.
If criminals obtain enough of your personal information, they can, for instance, open credit or debit card accounts in your name and accumulate enormous debts and bills that you will be responsible for. Or they might commit tax fraud while pretending to be you. Really, there are so many ways that cybercriminals can cause trouble using your personal information.
What’s very worrisome is that there is virtually no way to completely protect yourself from identity theft. In fact, even if you don’t do anything online, there are still “offline techniques” criminals can use to get a hold of your personal information, such as dumpster-diving and stealing your mail.
Nevertheless, taking a few precautions online can greatly reduce your chances of having your identity stolen. Below you’ll find a few steps you can take to protect your identity as much as possible.
– Be mindful of where you share your information
– Enter your personal information only on webpages and web shops that have “https://” in their URL, as this indicates a secure connection.
Also look out for the little lock icon which a lot of browsers, such as Google Chrome use. By clicking on this, you often get some safety and privacy information about the website you’re on, such as cookies it uses and its security certificate.
Please note: Although it’s important websites offer a secure https:// connection (which in some browsers might not be clear until you press on the address in the address bar), this alone does not always mean a site is to be trusted. After all, even a website with a secure connection can be operated by fraudsters.
– Use strong and unique passwords for all of your accounts to avoid cybercriminals getting a hold of them.
Many find it difficult to come up with many different strong passwords and memorise these. That’s why it can be beneficial to make use of a password generator and password manager.
– Never enter personal information on a public computer.
If you follow all of the tips above, you will greatly reduce your chances of falling prey to cybercriminals looking for an easy way to make money.
To recap, the most important instrument to protect yourself against cybercrime by far, is your instinct: don’t click on links or attachments in emails you don’t trust, don’t hand over sensitive information to a shady party and be mindful of where you share your personal details. Furthermore, it’s always important to install a reliable and effective anti-malware program, such as anti-malware software by Bitdefender, Norton or Kaspersky. Additionally, using optional but handy tools such as password generators and managers to create and safely store strong passwords, definitely can’t hurt.
Nathan Daniels is the lead content developer and editor for VPNOverview’s cybercrime section. He has a great interest in both online safety and privacy and is passionate about all things cybersecurity.