2019 saw damages from cyberattacks rise to more than $5 trillion. Just five years ago, this number was almost half. Cybercriminals have grown more powerful, their techniques more advanced and their reach is now worldwide. Experts predict this wave to continue in the years to come which gives us an added responsibility to be extra vigilant and take as many precautions as we can. Protecting data from cyberattacks is going to be one of the biggest challenges in 2020.
Online data is under threat from various entities. From businesses and other organizations to hackers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs), everyone has developed some need for data. In order to understand how to protect data from cyberattacks, users must be aware of the ways in which hackers can come after their information. As time roles on these attacks are evolving and we are discovering newer forms quite frequently.
What cyberattacks do online data faces?
Cybercriminals have been active for several years now and they have the advantage of being a step ahead of those who are defending against them. They have been facilitated further by improving technologies like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Their methods have now become more sophisticated and here are a few of the most common ways that these elements utilize to steal online data from users.
One of the oldest tricks in the book. It is called phishing because like the other activity, i.e. fishing, it involves a bait, a hook and an unsuspecting victim. Online phishing is done through calls, emails, text messages and random links, forms as well as surveys. The pages or emails that try to get data from users are designed to look like they are from a legitimate source, e.g. a bank or healthcare institution. Similarly, the person calling may pretend to be a government agent or trusted service provider. These people use various tactics to get the information that they need from people.
This includes a host of different computer viruses. Ransomware, adware, spyware, bots, bugs and Trojans are all different types of malware. Each virus has its own function like spyware secretly monitors everything while hiding in your computer and adware plays random advertisements all the time.
Hackers use the public IP address of users online to pinpoint their location and then send malware to them through email or by interrupting their data traffic. An IP address is so public that you can type what is my IP location in Google and the website will tell you instantly what it is.
The whole world has become increasingly inter-connected through the use of social media. However, it has also become more at risk with the amount of data that is now public. Hackers are now making use of social media to create a nexus that sometimes becomes impossible to beat. These people study their target and acquaintances through social media. Then they impersonate a close friend, colleague or boss to extract sensitive information about the user or their organization.
The other issue on the list is hacking. This is by far one of the oldest methods in the book and is still rampant although the frequency has decreased due to improved cybersecurity measures across the globe. Still, it can happen to small businesses and even household users. Giants like Facebook, Yahoo and CapitalOne have lost significant amounts of data to hacking so this is something that users also have to consider.
Ever since net neutrality came to an end in 2018, ISPs have grown exceptionally powerful in terms of regulating the internet. They have the ability to monitor all the data traffic coming from a user and share this with the authorities when requested. Unfortunately, some ISPs take undue advantage of this and sell the data they collect on users, to third parties like brands and even random people. This means that the data can at some point end up on public platforms and may be used unethically and illegally.
How to safeguard yourself from online threats?
There are several ways in which users can safeguard themselves from online threats. These include being knowledgeable and alert about the threats lurking around. It also requires extra measures like the use of a VPN for Windows to mask IP addresses. These are small things but together they contribute towards a more secure cyberspaces and allow everyone to access the internet freely without any concerns of being robbed or put in harm's way.
Awareness is very important. Studying about the ways in which cybercriminals target users can give a good heads up about what to expect. Also, with newer threats and ways being discovered on a regular basis, it is important to keep tabs on these developments so that users don't fall prey to a strategy that is rampant but they are not conscious about. All this information can easily be obtained through trusted websites online. For regular updates you can subscribe to their newsletters too.
Vigilance is key
There is no doubt about the fact that the biggest precaution is vigilance. Phishing attacks that happen through calls or emails can also be stopped if a user if mindful about them. Banks, government departments and a host of other organizations continuously put out messages informing people that they don't call asking for private information like ATM passwords or credit card details etc. Even someone asking for basic things like date of birth or address is not to be trusted.
For emails, online forms and social engineering tactics, it is important to be careful on your own. One of the most rampant ways to infect a system with malware is through email attachments in trusted formats like MS Word or Excel. Make sure that you verify the sender to be a person you know before downloading the attachment. Similarly, check any online pages for flaws or errors because there is always something missing in a phishing scam.
Using a VPN
A VPN for Windows is one of the most effective tools for protecting online data. Its main function is to hide user IP addresses and make all data traffic anonymous. In this way the role of ISP is minimized and sometimes even eliminated because data first goes to the secure server of the VPN and then on the original path. A VPN is affordable and the best solution for almost every cybersecurity issue.
Features to look for in a VPN
There are a few features that users should look for in a VPN before buying. These options and their efficiency can be tested through online reviews and ratings provided by independent third parties. Still, the most important cybersecurity features include:
A leading VPN like Ivacy has to provide at least 256-bit end-to-end encryption. This is the highest level of encryption commercially available so far. It makes decoding data almost impossible because otherwise it can be at significant risk while in transit.
Some free VPNs have been found to collect user data and sell it to other parties therefore the hallmark of a trusted VPN is that it provides a strict zero logging policy with no loopholes or hidden clauses written in the user license agreement.
Advanced cybersecurity features
Besides the encryption, a VPN has to provide advanced protocols, public Wi-Fi security, an Internet Kill Switch, secure DNS, DDoS protection, dedicated IP and several other features to make sure that no elements get through the cybersecurity barrier.
Protecting data online has become imperative these days because leaks can cause extensive mental and financial damages. No one these days is safe from cybercriminals so all of us have a responsibility to secure ourselves because in this way we are contributing towards more safe cyberspaces.
Scott is a cyber-security professional. He's been writing in the internet privacy niche for a while now and has churned variety of informational pieces to educate his audience. Connect with him on Twitter.