• Burton Kelso, Tech Expert

How to Stay Safe Online and Defend Against Common Cyber Attacks



October is my birthday month, but it’s also Cyber Security Awareness Month, a time set aside by the National Cyber Security Alliance to encourage everyone to take steps to protect themselves from cybercrime. From age 8 to 80, we are all at risk from some type of cybercrime. It's important to note that about 90% of cybercrime works by attacking people unaware of what threats are out on the web. This year, it's important to identify the top threats and how to protect yourself from them.


1. Credential Stuffing. The act of criminals stealing your user name and password information has made its way onto the dark web via the multiple data breaches that have occurred over the years. Criminals will then create 'bots' that will use your credentials to log into your online accounts.

How to stay safe: Change your passwords at least every 6 months and use a password management tool to keep track of all of your passwords and get alerts from when your passwords appear on the dark web.


2. Social Engineering. Not a virus, but the method of scare tactics that criminals use to get people to fall for the various scams that are used to get people to respond to spam emails and texts as well as trick people out of their money.

How to stay safe? Think before you act whenever you receive messages via text, email, and voice. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


3. Ransomware. Ransomware is a virus that comes in several forms. The first form of ransomware is considered scareware and works when a random popup appears on your computer with a fake warning about a problem with your device. The next form is considered locker ransomware which works when a random popup appears on your computer or smartphone warning you of a threat or malfunction with your device and locks you out. Finally, the worse form of ransomware is crypto and this threat encrypts and lock locks up your files on your devices. Criminals then reach out to you with the promise of unlocking those files if you pay the ransom.

How to stay safe? Most Ransomware attacks come in the form of phishing attacks which means you need to be careful what you click on when reading emails or surfing the web. With scareware and locker ransomware, sometimes a simple restart of your devices will clear the message off your devices. Always set up automatic backups for your devices in case you get hit with a ransomware attack. Finally, NEVER pay the ransom.


4. Mobile Device Vulnerabilities. Criminals are launching more attacks against mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Attacks such as mobile phishing and SIM card fraud are becoming more common. Also, criminals and abusive partners are using AirTags and Smart tags to track their victims.

How to stay safe: Only share your mobile number with close family and friends. For public use, create a virtual number using Google or Whatsapp. Criminals can use your mobile number to call your provider to switch your number to them. Also, keep alert with your phone if an unknown air tag or smart tag appears on your phone. Locate the tag immediately, remove the battery and alert the authorities.


More information to know to stay cyber safe.

90% of cyberattacks begin with emails. Hackers create emails that are socially engineered to get you to react and click on the information contained in them. Don’t click on links or attachments in emails and text messages that come from unknown sources. Avoid texting or emailing personal information.


Think you’ve been a victim of a cyberattack? Visit Have I Been Pwned. Have I been Pwned (www.haveibeenpwnd.com) is a free website that allows you to search and see if your email address was among millions of leaked data hacks. If this website says your email address has been leaked, change your passwords immediately.


Don’t use the same password for any of your online accounts. Hackers count on you to use the same passwords for all of your online accounts. That same weak password you use for Facebook is probably the same one you use for Amazon and your banking account. Hackers know this. Once they get one password, they will use them (along with your email) on all of your accounts to steal your data. Need help keeping track of those passwords? Download and use a password keeper like LastPass (www.lastpass.com). This app allows you to store all of those hard-to-remember passwords for all of your online accounts and automatically log onto your online accounts from your smart devices and computers using, secure passwords that are hard to hack.


Remember to Keep your Kids Safe Online. Social media plays a major role in most friendships with school-age kids, but it exposes them to risks in cyberspace such as cyberbullying and online predators. Set ground rules for smart device usage and make sure you’re putting your hands on and monitoring your kid's computers and smart devices on a regular basis to see what apps they are using and to see what interactions they are having online.


Beware of credit card skimmers. Hackers will do anything to get your information including using credit card skimmers which are designed to steal your information. Spotting a credit card skimmer is as easy as turning on Bluetooth on your smartphone. If you see a weird device trying to connect to your BlueTooth, it could be a skimmer. Android smart-devices users can download Skimmer Scanner from the Google Play Store to detect certain skimmers that use Bluetooth.


Check your financial statements and credit reports on a regular basis. Under federal law, you're entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Space out your requests so you get a credit report every four months. Want a handy app to keep track of your credit report, consider using Credit Karma (www.creditkarma.com)


Don’t forget to protect your computers and smart devices with anti-virus software and automatic backup. Windows and Macintosh computers have built in Anti-Virus solutions you can use to keep your devices safe. In the event that your computer files get ruined in a cyber attack, a good cloud-based backup like Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) will keep your information safe for desktop computers. For your smartphone, take advantage of Google Drive and iCloud drive to keep your information safe.


I hope you can use these tips to help keep safe from cyber threats. If you need further assistance, please reach out to me with any questions you might have. I am always happy to help!

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Want to ask me a tech question? Send it to burton@burtonkelso.com. I love technology. I've read all of the manuals and I'm serious about making technology fun and easy to use for everyone. 


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