By Tom Kelly
On September 13, Apple suddenly released an unprecedented, emergency security update after researchers at Citizen Lab discovered that an Israeli spyware group was able to infect Apple products via a critical cybersecurity vulnerability. Before the emergency patch, cybercriminals could use what’s called a “Zero-Day exploit” to put malware on Apple products without ever being detected.
Apple had to work non-stop to patch the vulnerability before cybercriminals around the world caught wind of the exploit. But while this particular cybersecurity crisis may have been narrowly averted, it’s far from an isolated incident. This year alone saw a massive surge in ransomware attacks, malware and more.
These attacks don’t just target businesses and industries; they target individuals too. We all use our phones, social media websites, smartphone apps and other digital services to live our daily lives and share our sensitive information. Today, the security of that information is at risk.
The fact is that cybercrime has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. As more and more people rely on digital products and services to do their banking, shopping, investing, working, dating and socializing, almost no one and nothing is immune to the growing threat posed by the world’s cybercriminals.
But ordinary people can and should take charge of their own cybersecurity and protect the privacy of their data.
Using digital technology doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your safety, security and privacy. But you can’t rely on the companies behind the products you use to do all the work for you. Cybercriminals are working around the clock to hack your devices and steal your data; taking careful and proactive steps to protect yourself is key.
It may not be possible to prevent the next zero-day exploit, but you can keep yourself from falling victim to any of the countless cyberattacks launched every day. Here are my three cybersecurity tips.
(1) Use Two-Factor Authentication and Other Security Protocols
Cybercriminals are dedicated, hard-working and, in many cases, well-funded. They are always trying to find new ways to hack your devices and online accounts.
There’s a lot that companies can do to make their products and services more secure. But 95% of cybersecurity breaches are due to human error. If you want to be as secure as possible, you have to take steps on your own to protect yourself.
For most people, that means using things like two-factor authentication or creating unique and difficult-to-guess passwords for their accounts. Some of these security protocols may seem burdensome; but they are simple steps that can have a huge impact.
(2) Beware of Suspicious Links and Emails
It’s easy to focus on the big cyber incidents involving state-of-the-art technology. As scary and significant as these incidents can be, they are far from the most common type of cybercrime.
Most often, cybercriminals rely on a tactic known as social engineering. That means cybercriminals try to manipulate and trick people, rather than directly hack their devices. The only defense against social engineering is vigilance.
Social engineering usually involves a phishing attack, where cybercriminals send emails that look legitimate to try to get people to give up their bank information, volunteer their login credentials or simply download malware. So keep an eye out for suspicious emails; if it doesn’t feel or look right, be careful!
(3) Take Control of Your Data
An emerging threat to everyone’s cybersecurity is the internet itself. So many of the websites and services we use, especially things like our social media platforms, collect massive amounts of information about us. Hackers can easily scrape data from these websites or intercept information and steal personal data.
So much of the internet runs on a business model that is hostile to user privacy. Taking back control of your data can help protect your identity, whether that means limiting the data you give to apps and websites or even just making informed decisions by reading website privacy policies.
Don’t take a lack of privacy for granted. Instead, take ownership of your privacy in whatever way you can.
Tom Kelly is president and CEO of IDX, a Portland, Oregon-based provider of identity protection and privacy services such as IDX Privacy. He is a Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur and an expert in cybersecurity technologies.