10 tips to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime

Cybercrime has proliferated over the last few years, becoming more frequent and sophisticated than ever before.  Luckily, there are several steps you could be taking to help prevent yourself from falling victim to cybercrime.

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So, what is cybercrime?

Firstly, you should know that cybercrime comes in many different guises. Despite this, the gist of it is that criminals exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems and the people that use them. Usually, they do this so they can make a profit. We’ve all heard stories of people suffering identity theft and fraud, or of a huge data breach where customer details are stolen.  These cyber-attacks are damaging, sophisticated, and scarily common.


How to stay safe from cybercrime

The most tech-savvy of people can be caught out by cybercriminals from time to time. Even if you try to keep up to date with the latest scams, the growing threat of cybercrime can feel overwhelming. But don’t panic just yet – you can do some basic things to take better care of your information security. So, what exactly can you do?



1. Always update your software to help prevent cyber attacks

You should keep the software up-to-date on all computing devices whenever possible. Software updates are one of the most useful things you can do in the fight against cybercriminals. This is because software vendors fix security vulnerabilities in their software on an ongoing basis, as they are discovered or reported. If you apply every update as soon as it becomes available, you will always have the most secure version. Software vulnerabilities are low-hanging fruit for hackers, and you will be making their jobs easier for them by not applying updates. As a result, they will gain access to computer systems to perform sophisticated attacks that can result in the theft or encryption of your data.



2. Install antivirus software

If you install good antivirus software it will monitor your computer for suspicious activity. You can benefit from regular scans of the whole filesystem, or select certain files to be checked.  As a result, your antivirus software will be able to detect most malicious programs and remove them to help keep the system secure. 

Additionally, your online safety can be boosted by antivirus software that keeps an eye on internet browsing.  This is because some packages have features that provide warnings about suspicious websites. Consequently, you could avoid accidentally visiting malicious sites that might want to steal personal information.

Notably, if you are on a budget, antivirus software needn’t cost the earth.  You can find some free, or low priced, options that will offer better security. Many of the free or lower priced options offer only the basic features, but are better than nothing if cost is a barrier. Also, you should be aware that many internet service providers offer free access to antivirus software as part of your package. For this reason, your available services are worth checking out before downloading anything else.



3. Secure your home network

Each router, or Wi-Fi hub, has a default password for administration settings as well as for connecting to the home network. Perhaps unsurprisingly, you should always change these default passwords to ensure better security.   Despite this, a surprising number of people keep the default settings of new home networking equipment.  Consequently, their home networks are susceptible to potential cyber-attacks as the confidentiality of the passwords is not assured. 

Hackers could obtain lists of these default credentials, using them to remotely access a router and change the administration settings. As a result, you could find yourself unable to log in to your home network. Additionally, you risk having your personal or financial information stolen. You might even have your computing resources misappropriated and used in some large-scale attack.

Crucially, many users of home networks also fail to update the firmware on routers and Wi-Fi hubs. As we pointed out in tip number one, updating your software is the best defence against malicious attacks. You can read more helpful advice on securing your home network from The Federal Trade Commission.



4. Use secure passwords for better cyber security

Passwords are a security feature that, if used without much thought, can quickly turn into a security flaw. Many people are using weak passwords and are not using password protection to its full potential. Reusing passwords across different user accounts around the web is a common practice – that’s a really bad idea. If a reused password is compromised, then so too are all of the accounts you used it with. It is also advisable to not write down passwords anywhere, or share them with anyone else.

What you can do is to choose strong passwords. Non-profit organization ConnectSafely has produced an informative password security guide that might help with this. They say it’s the complexity, length, and randomness of the password that make it stronger.



5. Be aware of cyber threats when using public Wi-Fi

Public networks are widely thought to be insecure, because information you exchange across the network is unencrypted and can be read by anyone. Some obvious security risks exist here, especially if you are planning on exchanging any sensitive information such as logging into a bank account or doing a spot of online shopping. 

While not all public Wi-Fi hotspots may be so insecure, it’s safest to assume that they are. Your mobile device’s data connection will provide much greater protection.  Security experts at Kaspersky have published a useful guide on how to help keep you safe on public Wi-Fi. Their helpful guide explains the issues surrounding the security risks in more detail.



 6. Be aware of phishing scams

Phishing scams are when you are contacted by email, phone, or text message by fraudsters who are pretending to be someone they are not. They will try using their cunning tactics to get you to divulge your personal information, ultimately resulting in you getting scammed. That’s never a good thing.

These tricksters often pretend to be from some official organisation, such as your bank or well-known subscription service like Disney+. You will often be warned about some problem that urgently requires your attention and be coaxed to click a link. But how can you tell if they are for real or not, when they are so convincing?

You should become aware of the common traits of phishing scams, looking out for some key things.  Credit reporting company Experian provides some excellent advice on avoiding phishing scams. This includes keeping an eye out for poor spelling and grammar, emails that don’t address you by name, and those with a threatening tone. 

All things considered, the best way to avoid phishing scams is by being hyper-vigilant and not clicking on any link that they provide.  Even if you feel sure the communication is genuine, the safest way to act on it is to log into or call the service in question using whatever link or number you would normally use. If it is genuine then there will be a record of the issue when you access your account.



7. Use social media with caution

Social media platforms have enjoyed extreme success, with unbelievably high numbers of users.  This is great but consider for a moment how tempting that is to cybercriminals.  They have a very large pool of personal data to tap into – and some people give far too much of it away.

Criminals are able to piece together seemingly separate pieces of information, using them for nefarious purposes.  It is important to be cautious about what you reveal on social networks and also of privacy settings.  Luckily, you can control who sees what on many platforms, so there’s no need to tell the whole world your personal details.   You shouldn’t really be putting details such as your date of birth and phone number online, even with privacy settings optimised.

Privacy settings are there for a reason but many people don’t use them, making their details available to anyone who looks.  Would you put up a noticeboard in the city with all your family photos and contact details on it for just anyone to look at? I think not.



8. Maintain secure backups of data in case of cybercrime

Recently, it has become more common for malicious software to be used to encrypt the data on the computers of targets. Because of this, attackers can attempt to extort money from you in exchange for decrypting your files. This malicious software is called ransomware and, although it usually targets businesses and organisations, it could target you as an individual. 

Maybe you keep important personal files or the personal information of other parties. If you do, it’s important to protect them from a ransomware attack. You should follow all the tips on this list, but must also make regular backups of your data.

Additionally, you must ensure that the backups are kept secure and separate from the system that you are backing up. A secure cloud backup service with data encryption is the ideal way to go. Alternatively, just ensure whatever method you choose is kept separate and secure.



9. Don’t neglect mobile device security

When you think about cybercrime, it’s easy to imagine hackers breaking into computers. It’s the stereotypical image. However, we use mobile devices for many tasks every day that could involve sensitive personal or financial information.

There are reasons you should still be mindful of cybercrime, even though mobile data connections offer a good level of security.  For instance, you could still fall foul of a phishing scam and inadvertently divulge sensitive credentials when using a mobile device.  Also, many people connect their mobile devices to their home Wi-Fi without a second thought.  Consequently, if your mobile device is not secure, this can provide a gateway into your home network. 

When you download apps onto a mobile device, you will usually agree to various permissions.  These allow the developer of the apps to access certain functions within the device.  Your privacy is a factor here and it doesn’t hurt to understand what giving consent for these permissions really means.  You can find more information on permissions for Android from Google Play Help. Similarly, you can read more about privacy for iOS devices from Apple support.

Mostly, you should be fine with well known apps, but there are some that might not be what they seem.  Your sensitive information could be misappropriated by such permissions, if an app is malicious.  If you are unsure of an app don’t just go straight ahead and install it – at least check it out first.  You could Google it first to see if it has a public profile and to find out what others are saying about it. 

Furthermore, you should apply the rest of the tips in this list when using any mobile devices for online activities. You should at least consider installing mobile antivirus software on mobile devices used for banking and online shopping.



10. Know how to report cybercrime

Finally, if you are unlucky enough that you become a victim of cybercrime, you should know what to do to report it. Of course, your country of residence could make a difference to where you make your report but there some common things that are important to do. 

Firstly, you should make sure to keep a record of what has happened including copies of any communications, bank statements, and suchlike. Any investigators will need as much information as possible about what has happened if they are to do their job. 

Secondly, you need to find out where to report the cybercrime.  Your country of residence will handle investigations of online crime, even if it is international in nature. Consequently, Interpol advise you to always contact your local police department to ask what the best procedure is.  However, you should never call their emergency line – cybercrime is not considered an emergency and should be dealt with by the relevant authority.

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