The internet has undoubtedly brought substantial ease, agility, and comfort to modern life. It has improved accessibility to education, news, retail, entertainment, and a range of essential services at a level never seen before. But along with these conveniences, threats to your safety have also risen at an unprecedented scale.
In 2022, Americans lost $52 million for phishing scams and $3.3 billion for investment fraud. According to a study by Pew Research, more Americans now fear cyberattacks than war or economic uncertainties. But what type of threats does the internet present, and what measures can you take to keep yourself safe? Let’s find out.
Common Threats to Your Cyber Safety
Online threats can materialize in various ways. Understanding them is necessary to safeguard yourself.
The most prevalent dangers involve identity theft and financial scams. The latter is self-explanatory and consists of some form of deceptive mechanism to steal money.
Identity theft, on the other hand, is about stealing identifiable data. This allows criminals to disguise themselves and commit further crimes, exposing identity owners to legal, reputational, and financial risks.
To target victims for identity theft and financial scams, malicious actors require certain key pieces of data. For example, with your tax ID details, scammers can file a false tax return, while bank account numbers and passwords can give them access to your savings and checking accounts.
Meanwhile, your home address, phone number, date of birth, SSN, account credentials, and other private data can all become the subject of identity theft. They can, for instance, enable fraudsters to set up fake dating profiles with your name, photo, and details and target innocent victims for romance scams.
But how can criminals get hold of your personal information? They can mine data from a variety of public sources, such as social media and blogs, where you have shared private details. Phishing attacks and impersonation scams that trick victims into providing sensitive data are also common. They can apply sophisticated spoofing and social engineering techniques to mislead and deceive individuals.
Malware and hacking are other popular methods. Even excessive data tracking practices by regular businesses can compromise your cyber safety when there is a data breach.
Proven Steps to Keep Yourself Cyber Safe
Strengthen data security
Anyone with digital connectivity can minimize many of the cyber risks by setting up security defenses to protect private data.
Here are the essential steps to note:
- Safeguard devices and accounts with strong passwords. Remember, password issues are at the root of 80% of hacking-related breaches. Most of these are preventable when you know how to avoid weak passwords. Using 123456, abcdef, and similar combinations as well as birthdays and phone numbers are common mistakes that could compromise data security. A random mix of special characters, letters, and numbers is ideal for preventing malicious actors from guessing passwords easily.
- Make use of multi-factor authentication and biometric security measures when they are available.
- Avoid sharing passwords with friends and family. There may be little risk of your loved ones tampering with your data. But there is always the possibility of them causing a security vulnerability through poor security practices.
- Set up different login credentials for each account, file, and device. If you are worried about remembering all your usernames and passwords, install a secure password manager instead of recording them in a book.
- Protect connected devices with anti-virus software and regular software updates.
- Keep smartphones, laptops, and external data storage units safe from physical theft and loss.
- Never save sensitive information on devices you regularly use.
Stop voluntary sharing
One of the major driving factors of rising cyber threats is careless sharing. All the personal information you share willingly on digital and non-digital platforms throughout your lifetime can accumulate into a massive data footprint. And the bigger the data legacy, the higher the risk of experiencing identity theft, financial scams, and other criminal advances.
So, what can you do to minimize what you share?
- Consider potential risks before posting personal information on social media, blogs, websites, forums, and similar platforms. Keep in mind that each comment, like, and post can leave behind important clues for cybercriminals to exploit.
- Avoid newsletters, memberships, subscriptions, and any free giveaway that require personal details such as your name, location, and email address.
- Minimize account signups for shopping, streaming, and other services when you can access them in guest mode.
- Review information you have posted on public profiles—including social media, dating sites, and other platforms where you maintain an online presence—and remove unnecessary personal details.
- Delete accounts you no longer use or rarely access.
Prevent data tracking
Without your knowledge, various businesses and individuals track your data around the clock. Besides collecting your personal details, they can also share what they have acquired with many others, further exposing you to cyber threats.
But preventing data tracking is easy when you know the right steps to curb unwelcome intrusions.
- Turn off data tracking and sharing options on all websites on which you have accounts.
- Before setting up profiles, read the privacy and data-sharing policies to understand how your information is protected and treated.
- Reject cookies on websites you visit.
- Prevent your browser from collecting data by deleting your search history, cookies, and cache. Also, disable auto form-fill and auto suggest functions.
- Avoid apps that request unnecessary app permissions to access your location, contact lists, call data, image library, and other private information on your phone.
With the growing number of impersonations, spoofing, social engineering, and deepfake scams, identifying fraud has become nearly impossible. So, a cautious approach will never go to waste when it comes to remaining cyber safe.
Here are critical practices to adopt:
- Never trust unsolicited attachments that arrive via emails, SMSs, and messages.
- Be wary of links, even when shared by someone you know.
- Avoid sharing sensitive information, especially passwords, tax IDs, social security numbers, bank account details, and dates of birth, through emails, messages, or over the phone.
- If you receive an unexpected call or message asking for money or personal details, never respond without verifying its source, even when it seems familiar at first glance. If they share a contact number, rely on PhoneHistory to find more details. Even a quick Google search might give you some hints.
The many perks of the cyber world come with a few notable dangers that have been escalating over the past decade. Understanding them and taking necessary preventative measures is crucial for your online safety.
Protect your digital data with appropriate steps and minimize information sharing to curb your data footprint from expanding further. Moreover, prevent others from tracking your online activities and adopt a skeptical approach toward all your cyber interactions.