Cyber Security 101: What Is Spyware?
Do you always feel like somebody is watching you? No, this isn’t a bad rendition of Rockwell’s famous 1984 hit single. It has everything to do with threats to cybersecurity, more specifically – spyware.
According to statistics from the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the FBI reports that internet-related fraud, theft, and exploitation are responsible for financial losses to the tune of $2.7 billion every single year. A huge chunk of this can be attributed to credit card fraud, personal and corporate data breaches, and compromised business / personal email accounts.
Wondering how the bad guys do it? They use spyware.
Here’s a crash course on everything you need to know about it and how you can avoid becoming another statistic.
What Is Spyware?
Spyware is a type of malicious software or “malware” that is installed on a user’s device and covertly monitors all its activity without their knowledge. It secretly gathers information about an individual or organization and relays it to third parties. While this sounds like something straight out of an espionage film, the threat of spyware is all too real.
Some categories of malware use your internet connection to relay personal details like your name, contact information, downloads, search history, browsing habits, and other sensitive data. Others like keyloggers steal login credentials for linked bank accounts or credit card information and use them for insidious purposes.
Some have been known to hijack a user’s browser, point to another website server and make calls or send text messages automatically from your device. Others display annoying pop-up ads even when the device is offline.
Nonetheless, it’s important to differentiate between conventional data collection programs and spyware. If a website or application notifies you of its intention to collect data, as well as the type of data it needs to gather and with whom it will be shared, such sites and programs cannot be classified as spyware.
Legitimate web-based applications need this information to improve the quality of products, services, and support they offer to their consumers. Computer spyware doesn’t request nor require your permission.
Legitimate data collection applications use “cookies” to collect and store information about a user’s internet activity and preferences. Users can allow or deny cookie tracking. This option, however, isn’t available for spyware.
How Does Spyware Work?
You’re now likely wondering how spyware gets installed on your computer or cell phone in the first place. Hackers use rather ingenious methods to lure you into installing them without your knowledge. Perhaps the most common method used to propagate the menace is by getting unsuspecting users to click on a malicious link that is embedded in an email, a text message, a pop-up ad in a browser, or a banner on a sketchy website.
In some cases, users don’t even need to click on the link to activate the spyware. Sometimes the malicious code can be embedded on a legitimate website, which then infects an unsuspecting visitor’s device just by landing on any page of the site. These are referred to as watering-hole attacks.
Opening infected files attached to emails purporting to be from credible sources like the US Post Office or a well-known bank is another common way of distributing spyware. Rogue software developers can also embed malicious code in freeware or tout an add-on as a must-have addition to a user’s software library.
Once the victim downloads and installs it, they activate the spyware, which runs stealthily in the background without the knowledge of the user in question. If you believe that it only affects PCs, guess again. With the advent of smartphones, cell phone spyware has become rampant.
Types of Spyware
The term “spyware” doesn’t refer to a single type of program. It is, in fact, an entire category of malware. Each type is designed to do several things.
Some of the most common classes of spyware you’ll come across include:
Advertising malware or “adware” is a type of spyware that is often bundled with many shareware, freeware, and utility programs downloaded from the internet. They are often used for marketing purposes to track a user’s internet activity, browsing history, search preferences, and so on. This data is then sold to third parties who use it to develop highly targeted contextual marketing campaigns.
Keyboard loggers or “keyloggers” are essentially system monitors that track every piece of activity that occurs on a computer system. This spyware is used by cybercriminals to steal login credentials, credit card information, and sensitive data from large and small-scale enterprises. They are sometimes also used by parents who want to track their children’s smartphone activity.
Spyware can also be in the form of a Trojan, which is a type of malicious software that disguises itself as a legitimate program. So an unsuspecting user could end up installing what they perceive to be the authentic software only to later discover that it was malware.
4. Cell Phone Spyware
This is a particularly dangerous form of spyware since it can be transmitted via SMS or MMS and doesn’t require any user intervention to execute commands. So, hackers can access the phone camera to spy on surrounding activity, record phone calls, read messages, record keystrokes, and even view internet browsing history remotely.
Spyware Removal and Prevention
If you notice that your computer system is running a little (or a lot) slower than usual, freezes up or crashes unexpectedly, chances are, it has spyware running in the background. The only way to be sure, though, is to use a robust spyware detector and removal program or antivirus to scan the system for malware and delete it. You should also ensure that your operating system and other software are up-to-date and only download software from trusted sources.
If a pop-up ad appears on your browser, steer clear of it. When downloading any software, carefully scrutinize all the disclosures in the End-User Agreement before proceeding with the installation. This gives you the chance to opt-out of any add-ons that appear suspicious.
Strengthen Your Cyber Defenses
At first glance, spyware may appear to be harmless in its least damaging form when it generates annoying pop-up ads when you’re trying to browse. However, in its most dangerous form, it could steal critical information like your credit card details and bank login credentials, which could have devastating consequences on your financial wellbeing.
Beef-up your cybersecurity defenses to avoid becoming the target of a malicious cyber attack. If you’re not sure which solution is right for you or your organization, speak to an expert to point you in the right direction.
What Is a Data Breach and Why Do They Happen?
Why are data breaches so common these days? This is a question that plagues many corporations, small business owners, and individual internet users alike. One thing that became abundantly clear after the infamous WikiLeaks scandal that left the CIA red-faced when thousands of classified records were leaked and published online. It’s that no institution or entity, not even the government, is immune from cyberattacks.
Cyber intrusions have become more sophisticated and damaging than ever. There’s a growing trend of cybercriminals publishing stolen data online as a tactic to force their victims to cough up the cash. But how do they get their hands on this sensitive information in the first place?
This article takes a deep dive into the cyber world of data breaches to better understand what it is and how it happens.
What Is a Data Breach – Brief Overview
A data breach is a cyberattack in which hackers gain unauthorized access to a computer network, system or database, and steal classified, confidential, or private information. While it might seem like the number of data breaches are at an all-time high, this may not be the case.
The laws in the US and other parts of the world changed, making it mandatory for companies to disclose data breaches. Before the enactment of these laws, corporations were under no obligation to report to the government, public, or affected individuals that their data security had been compromised.
This begs the question, why would a company experience a data breach in the first place?
Reasons for Data Breaches
As is the case with most cybercrimes, the whole point of a data breach is for the attacker to steal something that a business or corporate entity deems valuable. This could be anything from credit card details and bank account login credentials to email addresses and passwords.
The scope of what cybercriminals are after, however, is much wider. They’ll steal any data that a company or an individual wouldn’t want to be in the public domain. For other hackers, it’s simply a “fun hobby” that puts their hacking skills to the test.
On a much smaller scale, a hacker would want to breach your PC to gain access to information that they can use to steal your identity and hijack your financial details, which they can then use to make fraudulent purchases.
It ultimately boils down to what their driving force is.
Some of the methods cybercriminals employ to gain unauthorized access to a computer network, and its data include:
1. Taking Advantage of a System’s Vulnerabilities
This data breach method is commonly referred to as an “exploit”. It occurs when a cybercriminal uses a system’s or network’s security vulnerabilities to gain access. These weaknesses may not be easy to identify if you’re not purposefully looking for them and involves combing through thousands of lines of code to identify potential break-points. It is often a race against time between hackers and researchers to determine who will spot the bugs first.
2. SQL Injection
This is a common data breach method and is in many ways similar to the system exploit method detailed above. However, instead of a hacker trying to find bugs and other vulnerabilities in the system itself, they target the weaknesses in the SQL database management software that’s used in websites. This gets the database to leak information that it’s otherwise not supposed to.
For instance, a cyber attacker would enter malicious code into the search field of an e-commerce website. So, when a potential customer visiting the site enters a search query like “best outdoor security cameras,” the website would instead give the hacker a list of the customers and their respective credit card information.
3. Phishing Attacks
This method of breaching a system’s security defenses involves the use of social engineering to get customers to divulge sensitive information that no other party should be privy to. Social engineering is the art of manipulating an individual’s emotions like fear, greed, or gullibility to get them to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do under normal circumstances.
A data breach can occur when a phishing attack often in the form of a spoofed email sent to a company employee is made to appear as though it’s coming from someone within the company. The contents of this phishing email would then prompt the recipient to click on the link to access the (fake) company network portal, where they would then enter their login credentials. The attacker would promptly hijack them and use them to gain access to the system.
Biggest Data Breaches
The severity of a data breach is determined by the number of people affected by the incident. As serious as the recent data breaches that affected Facebook and Amazon were, they are still nowhere near the 2013 Yahoo breach, where every single account user was affected. An estimated 3 billion user records were exposed.
On the flip side, if you thought dating websites were safe from hackers, you thought wrong. The 2015 Ashley Madison data breach exposed more than 300 gigabytes worth of personal records. The site was hacked, exposing the users’ real names, their credit card information, and transactions, their secret sexual fantasies… every online-dating user’s worst nightmare.
The medical industry is not exempt either. Hacking a healthcare service is particularly serious, given the sensitive nature of the information that they store. Some of the notable healthcare data breaches include:
- The Women’s Care Florida where more than 500,000 patient records were exposed
- The Premier Family Medical in Utah where more than 300,000 patient records were leaked in a ransomware breach
- The American Medical Collection Agency, where data belonging to more than 20 million consumers was leaked
Don’t Take Any Chances
Despite the numerous risks and devastating repercussions associated with security management malpractice, the question remains: Why do so many companies still fall victim to data breaches and other forms of cybersecurity compromise?
Unfortunately, many companies still don’t invest adequate resources to beef up their data security. Moreover, software development companies put security products on the market that are rigged with vulnerabilities that a professional hacker can easily exploit.
Talk to a data security expert today and stop your company from becoming the next target of a data breach.
Cyber Security 101: What Is Malware?
According to a White House report, the economy loses up to $106 billion in malicious cyber activity every year. The extent of the damage caused by malware depends on several factors, such as whether the affected devices belong to a corporate or home network, the nature of the data stored on the affected devices, and the specific type of program used to infect these systems.
While the results of some attacks are imperceptible to the users of these systems, some malware can have far-reaching effects for both home users and those on a corporate network. But what is malware, and why is it dangerous?
This guide explores the answers to these questions in-depth.
What Is Malware – The Genesis
The word “malware” is short for “malicious software.” These are essentially third party computer programs that are specifically designed to infiltrate computer systems without the user’s knowledge or consent. Malware is the umbrella term that encompasses all the different types of threats to computer system security.
You’re now likely asking, “Where does malware come from?” The genesis of computer viruses and other malware dates back to the early 1980s when young programmers (some of whom were still teens at the time) created malicious programs as pranks to annoy internet users and just to see how far the viruses could spread.
They clearly didn’t understand the far-reaching implications their actions would have on cybersecurity several decades later. Experts have good reason to believe that the amount of malicious software being released on the web every day might surpass that of legitimate software.
Types of Malware
The web is full of different types of malicious software, with each one designed to do something different. Here’s a brief overview of the three classes of malware and how they work.
1. Contagious Threats
These consist of viruses and worms and are designed to infect the computer system and spread throughout the network without the user’s knowledge. A virus first embeds itself on authentic programs, which, when run by the user, spreads to different sectors of the computer system.
Worms, on the other hand, are similar to viruses, with the only difference being that they spread throughout the system without the user’s intervention. Viruses and worms are both created with malicious code whose sole purpose is to damage the computer.
2. Masked Threats
Trojan Horses and Rootkits are both malware, that fall in the category of masked threats. They are designed to hide malicious attacks on computers. Trojans disguise themselves as benign software to get users to download and install them in their computer systems.
But, instead of running a legit program, users unwittingly end up infecting their computers with malware. Rootkits work a little differently.
They don’t contain any damaging code but instead work to conceal malware. This makes it impossible for malware detection and removal programs to find and exterminate them.
3. Financial Threats
Spyware and keyloggers fall in this final category of malware. They are notorious for instigating malicious attacks on computer systems through phishing, identity theft, and social engineering, all of which are designed to steal money from unsuspecting individuals, banks, and businesses.
Spyware is the most common internet threat, in addition to being the most difficult to detect. They work by tracking a user’s internet activity to steal their login credentials, internet usage data, and other sensitive information. This is then sold to advertisers, relayed to data firms, or handed over to any other third-party users who might be interested in such data.
Spyware is also used by hackers to steal credit card and banking information, which is then used to siphon money. Keyloggers, on the other hand, are a type of malware which, when installed on a computer, log the keystrokes, messenger dialogs, emails, websites visited, and programs run on a particular device.
Before embarking on a malware removal exercise, you first need to establish that your system has been infected. Some of the symptoms you need to look out for include the following:
- Your device is running at much slower speeds than it did in the past
- Your device constantly freezes up or crashes unexpectedly
- Your device is running low on memory, and you can’t explain why
- Pop-up ads appear both when the device is connected to the internet and when it’s offline
If your computer is experiencing any of the above symptoms, then you might have a malware infection on your hands. The best course of action to take at this point would be to install and run a malware scanner program to identify and remove malicious programs that pose a huge risk to your system integrity.
This tool is usually integrated into robust antivirus and anti-malware software. They offer real-time malware protection by continuously scanning the network data and computer systems for viruses, Trojans, spyware, and any other malware. If the executed scans reveal that the system is already compromised, they work to delete the offending programs.
Malware Prevention Tips
Getting rid of malware after it has inflicted extensive damage on your computer system can be a laborious task, to say the least. Prevention is always the best remedy against malware.
Here are the top 10 malware prevention tips you can use to keep your system in tiptop condition:
- Install antivirus or anti-malware software
- Always ensure that your antivirus is up-to-date
- Set up your antivirus and anti-malware programs to run regularly scheduled scans
- Update your operating system to keep it current
- Always connect to a secure network
- Stay away from websites that have pirated content
- Keep your details confidential and avoid using your real identity on online discussion boards
- Stay away from free public Wi-Fi (or do it through a VPN if you must)
- Back up your files regularly preferably in an external storage device
- Use strong hard-to-guess passwords and avoid using the same login credentials on multiple sites
Stay a Step Ahead of the Bad Guys
Most malware is designed to be malicious, while others are just downright annoying. But, either way, they all hurt your system performance and could have disastrous consequences on your financial wellbeing.
Furthermore, if you run a business, its reputation is in jeopardy if the worst happens, and sensitive customer data is breached. Guarding against malware is becoming increasingly complex as more sophisticated programs are developed. These are even harder to detect compared to the ones that existed a few years ago.
Get expert help today to keep your system secure.
Cyber Security 101: What Is Ransomware?
What comes to mind when you think of a ransom? Probably a thrilling Hollywood action movie where a “high-value” individual or someone close to them is held captive until the demanded sum of money – the ransom – is paid to the kidnappers.
Ransomware is the real-life cyber version of it only that the high-value targets, in this case, are the computer files and data that belong to an individual or a corporate entity.
Still don’t get how it works? This article explores everything you need to know about ransomware.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malicious software or “malware” that infects a victim’s computer and locks them out of the system. This effectively prevents them from accessing their files.
Authors of ransomware encrypt these files and demand a ransom from the victim which has to be paid first before they can restore access. This payment is typically sent via credit card or cryptocurrency.
How Does Ransomware Work?
A ransomware attack is, no doubt, one of the most prolific cybercriminal business models in existence today. This is thanks, in large part, to the multimillion-dollar ransoms these criminal masterminds demand from individuals, small businesses, and large corporations every year. Failure to meet these demands could see your system and business operations come to a halt or shut down entirely.
If you’ve never been the victim of a ransomware attack, here’s a brief overview of how the process works.
Step 1: The Attacker Gains Access to the System
The majority of malware attacks often start as social engineering exercises usually in the form of a malicious link in an email or as malicious code embedded in an attachment. Ransomware is no different.
Social engineering is a sophisticated form of manipulation that coaxes or entices the victim to disclose personal or sensitive information. This includes divulging details like the login credentials to their bank account, their social security number, etc.
A ransomware email with a malicious link or attachment is sent to the victim, who would then be lured into clicking on the objects, thus activating the malware; this gives the attacker access to the system.
Step 2: The Ransomware Takes Over
Once the malware is activated, it spreads quickly through the system encrypting certain types of files effectively denying users access to them. In some cases, the ransomware locks victims out of the system entirely.
Step 3: The Attackers Contact the Victim
At this point, the victim is notified of the ransomware attack and the accompanying demands of the criminal. These have to be fulfilled if the users hope to regain access to the system. Failure to comply could see them get locked out permanently.
Step 4: The Victim Pays the Ransom
Ransomware attacks typically involve the encryption of certain types of files or lock users out entirely, thus denying them access to the system. If the files are important enough to the victim, especially if they don’t have them backed up, they’re left with no choice but to pay the sum demanded.
Step 5: Full Access Is Returned to the Users
In most cases, once the attackers receive payment, they restore full system access to their victims. If they didn’t, their reputation would be jeopardized, and very few individuals or organizations would be willing to pay up if they didn’t think that their data would be restored.
All the past and recent ransomware attacks use two main types of malware.
1. Crypto Ransomware
These work by encrypting files or data on a victim’s computer and denying them access. Individuals would have to pay a ransom for the file to be decrypted to regain access.
Examples of Crypto-Ransomware
CryptoLocker is, by far, one of the most well-known ransomware in existence. It was first seen in September 2013 and is believed to have extorted well over $3 million from victims.
The attack used a Trojan and targeted computer systems running on Microsoft Windows. It was propagated via emails that had attachments containing malicious code.
Other famous crypto-ransomware include TorrentLocker, CTB-Locker, TeslaCrypt, and CryptoWall.
2. Locker Ransomware
Locker ransomware works differently from its crypto counterparts. Instead of encrypting the data and files, it locks users out of their computers completely to deny them access. In other instances, it targets and locks specific files like text, Word, and PDF.
Examples of Locker Ransomware
Reveton is locker ransomware that first appeared towards the end of 2012. The Trojan-based malware prevented users from logging into the system. The system would instead display an official-looking alert purportedly from the victim’s local law enforcement agency or, in some cases, the FBI.
It informed them that they had been locked out of the computer for being involved in illegal activities like software piracy or child pornography. The warning would further require the user to pay a “fine” using a prepaid voucher to avoid further action from being taken against them.
The first line of defense against any ransomware attack is to back-up files both online in a cloud and offline in an external disk. For Windows users, relying on the system-generated shadow copies is not enough since these get deleted when ransomware first infects a system.
Other adequate protection techniques you can employ include:
- Using a robust cybersecurity tool to safeguard your system against these types of threats
- Don’t automatically open email attachments
- Keep your operating system and all other installed software up to date
- Keep your anti-virus and any other ransomware removal tools up to date with the latest security patches to counter new threats
- Steer clear of email attachments that require you to “Enable Macros” to view its content
- If your system is compromised, don’t pay the ransom since there’s no guarantee that you’ll regain access
The Best Defense Is a Strong Offense
With so many new variants of ransomware coming up every other day, the best defense against these threats would be to minimize your exposure. Being proactive and taking the necessary steps to protect your system is a foolproof way to avoid becoming the next target of an attack.
Get expert advice today for the best solution to address your specific security needs.
Cyber Security 101: What Are Phishing Scams?
It’s the wee hours of Saturday morning, and you get a frantic call from one of your clients. They are in a different time zone, so it makes sense why this call would come in so early, although it is still unusual for a Saturday.
They proceed to tell you that they can’t access their online account despite having reset their password the previous day. Now, they’re getting a stream of email alerts on activities that just don’t seem to make sense. You try your best to get them to calm down as you try to figure out what the problem could be.
Your client tells you that they were only acting on an email you sent out the previous day, informing them that unusual activity had been detected on their account and that they needed to reset their password urgently.
They clicked on the link, which then sent them to their account dashboard. They proceeded to confirm their identity, enter their old login credentials, and the new password to complete the reset process. Now they can’t access their account despite the stream of email alerts they’re receiving!
Out of everything they said, one thing, in particular, stands out for you – You never sent out an email about a password reset.
Both your company and your client have just become the latest victims of a phishing attack.
You’re now likely wondering, “What is phishing, and is it dangerous?”
Phishing is a technique used by cybercriminals to gather sensitive information from unsuspecting victims using fictitious emails and websites that disguise themselves as trustworthy entities. Phishing attackers have perfected this art of deception to a fault.
They take advantage of human naivety, fear, curiosity, and gullibility to manipulate their victims and extract the information they need to defraud them. In the hypothetical case of your client, the attackers exploited their fear that their account had been compromised. They used it to direct them to a fictitious website where they proceeded to surrender their login credentials.
The criminals created an email address that looked almost identical to yours except that it had one letter missing in the domain name, that only someone with an incredibly discerning eye would be able to spot.
In the recently released 2019 FBI Internet Crime Report, the agency recorded more than $3.5 billion in losses through internet-enabled crimes. According to the report, phishing scams were responsible for a considerable chunk of these losses.
Phishing Scam Examples
No one would be so foolish as to fall for a phishing scam, right? After all, who would be duped by an email from a Nigerian Prince who needs you to transfer funds into their account in exchange for a 20% stake in their multi-million dollar oil exploration project? Hardly anyone.
Phishing scams these days, however, have become a lot more sophisticated.
In email phishing scams, hackers play a numbers game by sending thousands of fraudulent messages to internet users in the hope that a small percentage of the receipts fall for it. But, to better their odds of success, they go to great lengths to design email interfaces that could pass for the real deal. They use the same logos, typefaces, and signatures to make them appear legitimate.
Additionally, the attackers usually craft messages that create a sense of urgency to prompt victims to take action quickly. This makes it less likely to spot any inconsistencies in the malicious email, leaving them vulnerable to falling for the scams.
Finally, the links used within the email redirect the victim to a website that is identical to the authentic one. While the domain name may resemble the legitimate one, if you’re keen, you’ll be able to spot some subtle spelling differences that are otherwise easy to miss.
Phishing Email Examples
Say, for instance, that you have a bank account at “Authentic Bank,” and you receive what appears to be an auto-generated email from a no-reply email address. The contents and appearance of the email look identical to the ones you’ve previously received from the bank, so no red-flag there.
The email states that your account password expires in 24 hours, and you need to update it using the link provided. The real URL to the site is “authenticbank.com.” The link provided in the email reads “authenticbank.com/update.”
Clicking on this link could do one of two things:
- It could redirect you to a bogus page that looks identical to that of the legitimate site. The bogus page’s URL could read something like autheticbank.com/update”. You’re likely to miss the subtle change in the spelling of the word “authentic.” You would then provide your login credentials, which the attacker would steal and use to access your account via the real site.
- It could redirect you to the actual webpage but, in the process, activate a malicious script in the background that hijacks the session cookie. This would give the attacker privileged access across the entire university network.
A more targeted form of phishing, known as “spear-phishing,” uses spoofed emails to target specific individuals in companies as opposed to random recipients. The attackers do their due diligence beforehand, to pose as someone within the organization.
They could reference an on-going project or anything that may be of interest to the target before prompting them to use their network credentials to login and view the attachment.
Phishing Scam Protection
Any spoofed email contains subtle clues that let you know it’s a scam. Pay attention to the domain names used in the links for any differences in spelling and compare them against the URLs of the authentic sites. You should also pause and take a moment to reflect on why you would receive such an email in the first place before you take any action.
Some of the steps companies can take to guard against phishing attacks include:
- Implementing two-factor authentication (2FA)
- Enforcing strict password management policies like requiring employees to change their passwords every week and not using the same one for multiple applications
- Conducting comprehensive employee training at all company levels
Vigilance Is Key
Phishing is getting smarter, and everyone is a potential target. Always double-check the sender’s name and email address every time a new message pops up in your inbox. If it’s from an unknown sender, don’t click on any links in the email. With the rising numbers of phishing crimes, vigilance is key if you want to avoid becoming another statistic.
If you have a company, consult with a cyber-security expert to find out how they can help secure your company against data breaches.
What Is Cyber Security?
Picture this: You’re at the grocery store one day only for your credit card to get declined at the checkout cashier. The message displayed on the POS reads “insufficient funds to complete the transaction.” This doesn’t make any sense; there’s no way you’ve maxed out your card.
You get in touch with your card provider only for them to confirm that your card was indeed maxed out on various purchases you made online the previous day. That can’t be right. The last time you shopped online, you only spent a little over $50, and even so, that was a couple of weeks back. So, how is it possible that you maxed out your credit card?
Credit card fraud is a type of identity theft. In 2019 alone, hackers accessed more than 7.9 billion consumer records. This was a record high compared to the previous years. These statistics should concern you as an individual or as a business owner.
A data breach is not just an expensive affair given the monetary losses you incur as a result, but it is also damaging to your reputation. This article explores all-things cyber security, how a data breach occurs, and what you can do to strengthen your personal data security.
Cyber Security Basics
First, what is cybersecurity, and why is it important?
Cybersecurity refers to the practices, processes, and technologies employed to protect data, programs, networks, and related hardware devices from damage and attacks resulting from unauthorized access. It is also sometimes referred to as information technology security.
The reality of the world we live in is that there are copious amounts of data about you out there. Any time you sign up for online services, most websites have digital forms that require you to provide personal information like your full names, date of birth, home address and contact details like your email and phone number.
If it’s an e-commerce or any other platform that has a subscription-based service, you may have to provide sensitive financial information like your credit card details. If this were to fall into the wrong hands, anyone with sinister motives could use it to your detriment.
Moreover, it’s not just online websites that have your information. Government, corporate, medical, and even military organizations collect, process, and store massive amounts of personal data on their servers. It usually gets transmitted across networks in the course of the day-to-day business operations.
If it is not protected, it can become the target of sophisticated cyber attacks. This is precisely why cybersecurity is important.
Cyber Security Threats
Cyber attacks don’t just happen to large organizations or businesses. If you run a company that collects and stores information on its customers, cybercrime could end up crippling your business. Small businesses, in particular, are more vulnerable to cybercrime since hackers generally view them as easier targets than going after the big fish.
However, that is not to say that large firms are immune to attacks despite the security protocols they may have in place. Without adequate controls, cybercrime is not only damaging to a company’s reputation, but it also opens it up to lawsuits if it is found not to have put proper measures in place to prevent the breach.
Here are the top cybersecurity threats businesses and individuals should be wary of and how to prevent or mitigate them.
1. Internal Attacks
As a business owner, you’re likely to put a lot of faith in your judgment and intuition. You trust that the people working for you have the company’s best interest at heart. You want to believe that they exercise the utmost care when it comes to safeguarding sensitive information that could be damaging to the enterprise if it fell into the wrong hands.
However, operating from this point of view may call into question your intuition when that trust is betrayed. Rogue employees, particularly those who have admin accounts or access to sensitive information, are capable of causing untold damage if they leak it to third parties.
One of the ways to safeguard against these types of internal threats involves identifying all the privileged user accounts that have significant access to the company’s internal systems. If you find some that are no longer in use – perhaps those that belonged to former employees, you’ll need to terminate them immediately.
You’ll also need to implement software tools that can maintain an accurate log of all user activity within the system, particularly that of the privileged accounts. Any sign of malicious activity can be nipped in the bud before it gets out of hand.
2. Phishing Attacks
Despite being one of the most well-known hacking methods that exist, you’ll be surprised at the sheer volume of people who fall victim to these types of cyber attacks every day – and with good reason too. It is one of the most effective methods used by criminals to introduce malware into individual and business networks. But what is phishing anyway?
Phishing is a method hackers use to gather sensitive information about an individual or business through deceptive emails and websites. A more sophisticated form of phishing known as “spear-phishing” occurs where the individual is a high-value target. This is usually an employee with access to a privileged account.
A spear-phishing email is disguised to appear as though it originated from someone that the target knows and trusts, for instance, someone in senior management or even a valued client of the business. They look highly authentic, which makes it easy for even the most discerning individual to fall prey to them.
These emails usually have malicious links which, when clicked on, could get the victim to do one of two things:
a. Reveal Sensitive Information
On the one hand, phishing emails could trick the user into handing over sensitive information, which in most cases, is a username and password. The hacker would then use these credentials to breach the computer system, online account, or business network.
One of the most common versions of this scam involves sending out an email designed to appear like a message from a reputable bank. When the recipient clicks on the link provided, it redirects them to a website that is a replica of the bank’s webpage.
The victim would then enter their login credentials to gain access to their account dashboard. The attacker who is normally lurking on the backend of this fake website hijacks the username and password of the victim and uses it to access the bank’s customer portal and drain their bank account.
These types of phishing emails are usually spammed out to millions of people in the hope that some of the receipts are customers of the bank in question.
b. Infect Their Computer With Malware
In this type of phishing attack, a hacker would attempt to get the victim to download and install malware onto their computer. They are usually sent as .zip files or MS Office documents that contain malicious embedded code.
The emails are often “soft targeted,” which means that an attacker would send a phishing email to an HR staffer, for instance, with an attachment purporting to be a jobseeker’s résumé.
The most common type of malicious code contained in phishing email attachments is ransomware. Ransomware attacks spread quickly across a business’ network locking down the computers and preventing users from accessing them. Unless a business coughs up the sum demanded by the hackers, all the files will end up permanently locked or worse still, shared in the public domain.
One of the most effective ways to safeguard against these types of threats involves training and educating yourself (or your staff if you run a business) on how to recognize a phishing email. It is also important to back up critical files and data.
If you’ve come across the term before, the first question you might ask is, “What is malware?”
Malware is an umbrella term that encompasses any software that downloads or gets installed on a device without the knowledge of the system owner. It gives unauthorized access to third parties to perform unwanted tasks.
Aside from ransomware, many other types of malware exist. These are explored in detail below.
Spyware is classified as a type of malware that infiltrates your computer to steal sensitive information and data that reveals your internet activity. It tracks and sells your internet usage stats to other parties, steals your identity, or captures your bank account or credit card information.
Spyware can be used by hackers for several purposes. Some monitor your internet activity and steal your login credentials for various websites. Others change the settings on your device or computer network to trigger the installation of additional software that can be a major source of many other cyber security breaches.
Four major types of spyware exist:
This type of spyware monitors your internet activity to predict the types of products and services that you might be interested in. Once it has a good handle on this, it displays ads for related commodities to lure you into clicking on them and making a purchase. Adware is mainly used for marketing purposes and can drastically slow down the performance of your system.
This category of malware usually disguises itself as legitimate software but is controlled by third parties who use it to access sensitive information like your Social Security Number or credit card information. Some Trojans, for instance, are usually disguised as Flash Player or Java updates.
c. Tracking Cookies
Cookies are generally used for marketing purposes. They track your web activities on a particular website to save your searches, downloads, and site history.
d. System Monitors
This category of spyware is designed to track everything you do on your computer. If you have devices connected on a network, system monitors log all the activities of every client computer connected to it.
They do this by recording all emails, messenger dialogs, keystrokes, programs, and all websites visited using a particular computer. One of the most common ways used by third parties to get you to install system monitors is to disguise them as freeware.
How to Detect Spyware
Spyware is often quite difficult to recognize on your device. It is purposely designed that way. However, some clues can help you determine whether your device has a spyware issue.
The three most common symptoms of a spyware infection on your computer are:
– Your computer has become uncharacteristically slow or crashes unexpectedly
– Pop-ups often appear regardless of whether or not you’re connected to the internet
– Your computer is running low on hard drive space even if the existing programs don’t warrant that kind of disk usage
One of the best ways for businesses and individuals to guard against malware is to invest in solid anti-virus technologies and ensure that they are always up-to-date. Failure to do this leaves a business vulnerable to all sorts of attacks that could lead to data breaches, identity theft, or loss of funds. It is also important to regularly update operating systems, firmware, and firewalls.
4. SQL Injection
Many businesses rely entirely on the services they provide online. A SQL injection attack is one of the most dangerous cyber attacks that can be staged against a company.
In this type of threat, hackers exploit the vulnerabilities of a website, allowing them to tamper with the database that sits behind the web application. They achieve this by sending malicious SQL commands to a database server by embedding code into digital forms like those in registration or log in pages.
The best way to prevent or mitigate SQL injection is by employing the services of a top cybersecurity team to install a robust web application firewall and to remove any database functionality that isn’t required. The rule of thumb is to assume that all the data submitted online is malicious and take the necessary steps to prevent this type of threat.
Prevention Is Better Than Cure
As cybersecurity strategies continue to evolve, so do the threats. Regardless of whether you run a large-scale company, small business, or are an individual computer user, everyone is a potential target.
If you’re worried about what would happen to you or your business if targeted in a cyber attack, you should consult with Hyperion’s experienced cyber security experts about securing your devices and networks as soon as possible.
Cyber Security 101: What Is Adware?
Have you ever accidentally tapped on a pop-up ad as you were scrolling through a webpage on your smartphone? What about the constant redirects you get when you attempt to close the numerous ads that seemingly pop-up out of nowhere when you just want to browse a site on your computer in peace? Frustrating, isn’t it?
What you probably didn’t know is that these ads aren’t just annoying, but they could redirect you to malicious sites that could wreak havoc on your computer system. There’s a name for them – adware.
Here’s everything you need to know about these bothersome little irritants.
What Is Adware?
Advertising malware (or “adware” for short) refers to unwanted software that presents pop-up ads or banners on the user interface when the device is connected to the internet or, in some cases, during offline use. Adware not only bombards your device with an endless sea of advertisements but, in most cases, can change your browser’s homepage and install spyware on your device.
While adware cannot truly be classified as a virus and doesn’t pose half the threat that other malicious codes floating around the internet do, make no mistake about it. If it’s on your computer, you need to find a way to get rid of it using the best adware removal tools the market has to offer.
How Does Adware Infect a Computer?
Adware can be harmless for the most part, or it could be dangerous if it leaves your PC vulnerable to malicious threats that could compromise its security. It all boils down to how you got it in the first place.
For instance, free apps like Skype have embedded ads to generate revenue. This goes into covering the cost of development and maintenance of the software since users get to download and use the app for free.
The ads only show within the app’s platform and only when it is running. These are part of the terms that the user agrees to when they download the app. They can, however, opt-out of seeing ads by purchasing a key or getting the “premium” version of it.
There is a more insidious type of adware that doesn’t ask for permission before it is installed on your device. Instead, it’s done in a roundabout way by embedding the code in email attachments, clicking on ad banners or pop-ups, or even by simply browsing a sketchy website.
In other cases, software developers bundle adware with programs that you download willingly. So, anytime you download a free app, there’s a good chance that it’s ad-sponsored.
What Are the Dangers of Adware?
One of the most common questions people ask is, “Is adware dangerous?” Well, the answer to this is – not by itself. It becomes a problem if it is used as a gateway to introduce other harmful threats to your system.
Here are some of the ways adware can be a cybersecurity threat.
1. Adware Can Redirect You to Dangerous Sites
When numerous pop-up ads and banners appear inside, and in some cases, outside your computer browser, when you’re offline, they are not only distracting and incredibly annoying, but they are also a clicking hazard. More often than not, in a futile attempt to close them, you may end up clicking on the ad, which then redirects you to a malicious site that’s a hotbed for several other malware. Other times, you could be lured into clicking them to cash-in on an irresistible deal that could lead you to sketchy sites as well.
2. Interferes With Your Browsing Experience
One of the dangers of adware is that they sometimes alter your browser’s homepage or start page, causing it to redirect you to potentially unsafe sites. This negatively affects your browsing experience if every time you access the internet, you have to first start by restoring the settings to their default state.
3. May Affect the System’s Performance
One of the most frustrating things about banner ads and pop-ups that keep appearing on the user interface is how they impact the system performance. They cause the computer to slow down drastically, freeze up or frequently crash, which is a pet peeve for many.
4. Can Spy on Browsing Activities
Adware is usually designed for marketing purposes. So, to improve the relevance of the ads you see, adware spies on your internet browsing history, IP address, online search queries, frequently visited websites, etc. and relay this information to the advertiser’s servers.
That way, they can deliver targeted ads that are more likely to interest you. In some cases, data about your browsing habits can be sold to third parties who would use it to drive their agenda.
5. Makes a System or Network Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks
Adware could potentially steal sensitive information like your credit card details or the login credentials of your bank account. They could even go as far as changing or disabling your internet security, leaving your system vulnerable to hacker attacks.
How to Get Rid of Adware
One foolproof way to get rid of an adware infection in your computer is to use a robust adware scanner to find and delete unwanted programs. You also need to get an adware blocker to prevent the installation of programs that have nosy trackers and annoying ads.
Other ways to circumvent adware infections include:
- Staying away from free software unless it’s from a credible site
- Always read the End User License Agreement to understand the optional add-ons that come with the program
- Using the “Custom” or “Advanced Installation” option to reject add-ons that you’re not too sure about
- Don’t click on pop-up ads or banners that show up while you’re browsing online or offline especially those that claim that there’s a “Virus Detected – Click to Clean”
- Use the browser settings to block pop-up ads
- Install an antivirus or anti-spyware program and use it to scan every file you download
Make Yourself a Harder Target
As with all best practices for security, making yourself a harder target for cyber criminals will go a long way to deterring attacks.
One of the most challenging aspects of adware programs is that they cannot be uninstalled without using an adware removal tool. While allowing ads are a necessary evil for software developers to recoup their development and maintenance costs, the adware can open up your system to unprecedented risks. They can be exploited by criminals with sinister motives, so you must be extra vigilant.
Consult with a cyber security expert today to bolster your computer and network security and avoid becoming the next victim of a cybercrime.