Your guide to 4 types of cyberthreats and how to stay safer online

Cybersecurity and cybercrime are undeniably important issues, with stories of hacks and data breaches never far from the headlines. Cybercrime regularly makes the evening news these days, and is featured in TV shows such as Mr Robot and in a story arc on Grey’s Anatomy where the hospital was hacked and blackmailed.

Cybercrime is a familiar term to many, but although we’re all using devices more than ever, lots of us are still unprepared for a cyberattack. We don’t think it will happen to us – but the truth is it could happen to any of us.

You’d never dream of leaving a house or car without locking it, but many of us do the digital equivalent of that every day with our phones or computers.

Here are four of the most common examples of threats, and how to best prevent them.

Cyberthreat #1: Phishing attacks

With email becoming the default means of communicating for many of us, the opportunities open to cybercriminals are also increasing.

Phishing attacks spoof real organisations or individuals to trick victims into clicking on malicious links or installing malware on their devices. The emails may use legitimate addresses, designs and even the company logo and contact information – but in reality are looking to steal your information.

Often asking for clarification on a user’s accounts or login information, phishing emails in fact act as a gateway for criminals to steal vital data that can be sold on or used to access personal accounts.

What to do:

As mentioned above, phishing emails often go to great lengths to ensure they appear realistic, using official-looking icloud, Hotmail or Google accounts, or disguising their message with company logos or images.

But often a closer look will give the game away, with criminals having to make deliberate mistakes to avoid detection. That may be a misspelled email address (e.g. come from ‘Appld’ rather than ‘Apple’) or errors in the company information they include to sound legit – such as mistakes in an address or signature.

The very links used to try and trick victims can also be a giveaway – you’d expect a link in an official Microsoft email to redirect you to a website, so if you hover your cursor over a link and it says something wildly different, you’ve probably got a phish.

Cyberthreat #2: Malicious public W-Fi networks

These days, ensuring you’re online and able to get the latest updates across news sites and social media is vital – but what if you’re out and about?

Hackers are increasingly targeting internet-hungry users with fake public Wi-Fi networks with legitimate-sounding names that don’t need a password to access. 

Once you’re logged in, the criminals can then track exactly what sites you visit, and even potentially the passwords and other personal information you put in.

What to do:

Whenever you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect the data you send and receive. A VPN, like Norton Secure VPN, creates a private, encrypted information connection that helps prevent cybercriminals from hijacking your device and intercepting the data you send and receive.

If you are unsure about connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, you can always ask a staff member to ensure it is legit. You don’t even have to ask that question – instead just ask for the password or the Wi-Fi name to make sure everything matches up.

Never connect to a Wi-Fi network if you don’t know what it is or who it belongs to, as it may be a trap.

4 types of cyberthreats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cyberthreat #3: Dodgy apps

Apps are great – whether it’s social media, a banking service to keep track of your spending, or simply the latest addicitive game.

But how much attention are you paying to the apps you download? One of the basic rules of business is that once something is successful, competitors will immediately copy it – so make sure you’re downloading the app you really want.

Numerous reports recently have found users being tricked by fake versions of popular apps, which charge users far more than they should, and in some cases even steal personal data.

What to do:

To begin with, always use legitimate app stores – both Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store look to ensure everything that goes on sale or for download is safe to use (although sometimes exceptions do slip through). Don’t ever use third-party app stores for app downloads, as there be malware!

Always check you’re downloading the exact app you want – this may sound obvious, but as mentioned, unscrupulous developers have got very good at duplicating popular apps and services to trick unwary customers.

Lastly, ensure you have a comprehensive mobile security suite which is able to spot issues and alert you to anything untoward – such as Norton Mobile Security, available for iOS and Android.

Cyberthreat #3: RansomwareMalware

We all know the danger malware can pose, but ransomware is a particulaly nasty strain that can cause significant damage.

Once installed (often by clicking on a malicious link or visiting a dodgy website) ransomware ‘bricks’ a victim’s device – essentially holding it hostage until a ransom (often in hard-to-trace cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin) is paid.

Ransomware can often disguise itself as a warning from your internet service provider (ISP) or even the police or national government, using false identity to make victims worry they have done something terrible, and speeding up the payment.

What to do:

As with avoiding most malware, stopping ransomware can often be as straighforward as taking care what sites you visit online.

Always ensure the sites you visit are legitimate. Often seeing if a site is protected with HTTPS can be a good indicator – this can be spotted thanks to a small padlock icon next to the address in your search bar, showing you that page is secure.

Also, ensure any files or data you want to download are safe. Check out user reviews and ratings to spot anything untoward, and scan anything that may be concerning with your antivirus solution.

Having a reliable security software solution can be invaluable in stopping infection, and making sure your data remains safe.

Protect yourself online

As cyberthreats evolve and become more sophisticated, it’s crucial that you protect yourself online. 

Your personal information is precious, so make sure you keep up to date with the latest threats, ensure your devices are updated, and install a comprehensive security suite that helps keep your information protected online.

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