As everyone knows by now, we live in an age that is heavily dependent on the internet. The World Wide Web has become a huge part of our lives over the years, and as anyone would agree, it has made a tremendous positive impact on humanity. For instance, it has made our lives easier, more enjoyable, and more comfortable. Today, you don’t have to spend hours in the library going through a giant pile of books just to get a piece of information. Depending on what you’re looking for, you can get it from your favorite browser and search engine without even taking off your pajamas!

Moreover, you can study various courses from home or the workplace and get the much-needed credentials to propel your career forward. This is not to mention shopping, socializing with friends and strangers, and getting your good dose of entertainment. Most importantly, you can earn money without leaving the comfort of the four walls in your home or even while on the go, thanks to the internet. Well, we can go on and on about the advantages of the web, but that would seem rather redundant to many.

Nonetheless, internet users are, more often than not, prone to becoming victims of cyberattacks, cybercrime, and other unpleasant issues in-between. Cybersecurity has been a major drawback to the existence of the internet for as long as anyone can remember. From cyberbullying to hacking, identity theft, and financial fraud, a lot of dark stuff and shady dealings take place over the web. In this piece, we will highlight some of the biggest threats to online security you should be aware of as an internet user.

1. Hacking

This is a phrase that most of us are synonymous with. If you’re an avid internet user, you have probably been warned about using public internet connections when making personal transactions online, especially when you are not using any VPN. Traditional hackers were mostly concerned with getting your bank account details and transferring your cash into their own. This has, however, advanced into something much bigger. Modern-day hackers are known to target information like usernames and passwords. These are apparently easier to acquire and more valuable to the hackers of today, sometimes compared to mere bank account information.

With the advancement in technology and knowledge, this has become a much bigger threat than it used to be. Someone with the know-how can easily hack into any of the devices you use for online access and do as they so wish with your private information. The results can be detrimental to your finances, and, as observed lately, to your reputation. The good thing, however, is that software programs are always available to prevent hacking. Well, most of them work by assessing your vulnerabilities and recommending a solution. In a recent review of penetration testing vs bug bounty, it is recommended to pick penetration testing as your first choice. If the assessment comes out empty from two different software or companies, you can then use bug bounty for cross-checking purposes.  

Another thing about hackers is that they will even get into your devices for the fun of it. In the end, they could tarnish your name/brand using your social media accounts, blog, or website. This is why you need to be extra careful and keen on ensuring you are safe when going around your business online. Other than assessing vulnerabilities and employing anti-hack software, some methods you can ensure safety from hackers include the following:

  • Utilizing network firewalls and encryption
  • Utilizing Network VPNs
  • Employing data access security tools
  • Having a procedure to allow and deny access (such as two-step verification)
  • Providing user awareness and training

2. Phishing

We have heard of people whose information was used for illegal activities online. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because phishing is one of the biggest threats to online security at the moment. Phishing is usually an attempt to gain sensitive information from an individual by posing as a trustworthy contact. It goes a notch higher into what is termed as spear phishing, a highly targeted attempt to obtain sensitive info from an individual.

Spear phishing, in most cases, seems so legit at the look of it. You receive an email from a “bank” or an online service asking you to urgently share your information or make certain payments. The emails and texts often utilize faultless wording and genuine logos that you will hardly differentiate the sender from the real and original companies. You, therefore, need to make sure you are keen to spot them from a mile away. Luckily, the following tips can help.

  • Be smart enough to know that companies do not usually ask for sensitive information. If at all they do, it won’t be via email.
  • Knowing you are at risk of being the next victim, be suspicious of emails you didn’t expect or ones you don’t trust.
  • Make use of anti-malware software, they come in handy.
  • Keep spam filters turned on at all times. However, visit the spam inbox once in a while in case innocent mail is trapped in there.

3. Social Engineering

Social engineering isn’t that different from hacking. The major difference is that the attack is designed in a way that you harm yourself unknowingly. The main idea in social engineering is deception. As an online user, you are tricked into taking some actions and evading others such as bypassing security measures or giving out your personal information. Basically, the user is responsible for letting the hacker into their system without their knowledge! These cases haven’t been existent in the last couple of years but the rate at which these attacks are on the rise makes it one of the biggest threats.

The worst part is that even the best cybersecurity systems will rarely protect you from social engineering attacks. You will be tricked into taking actions that will make the security systems you have in place cease working or at least fail to prevent the attack. You, therefore, are responsible for your own security on this one. Cease using shortcuts to get things done. Do not bypass the security measures recommended by the security systems you have in place at any time. If you do, you won’t have anyone to blame. As you now know, this is a game of deception. Be on the lookout.

4. Ransomware

This is another very serious threat, especially to firms or people whose livelihood depends on their online activities. What happens is that your network is attacked and your computer system is inaccessible. This means you can’t do anything on your computer. As mentioned, this translates to losses to people who depend on the work they do online. After your system has been locked, you receive an email asking you to pay up a ransom so you can receive an unlock code to decrypt the malware holding your system. You may assume this is the only loss, but in the real sense, it’s just the tip of the iceberg!

To begin with, you will have lost productive time trying to sort out the issue. At the same time, there is a high chance that you will lose data. Data loss is the most significant loss for any business. This threat has only come up recently, meaning that it could take time before one comes up with a way of dealing with it for good. However, don’t be hopeful for a solution when it comes to technology. As advancements are made in cybersecurity, the threats are also advancing. Ransomware attacks have been on the rise across the globe, and that is why you need to take some of these measures to be on the safe side:

  • Staff awareness- Make sure that you and your staff are well informed on what to do when faced with unsolicited emails especially those requiring prompt responses.
  • Malware protection- Have good antivirus and malware protection software installed.
  • Software updates- Ensure all your apps, especially the malware protection software, are up to date
  • Data backup- Make sure to backup all your data in case you are a victim and end up losing important data.

5. Outdated Hardware

You should know that not all cybersecurity threats come from software. Sometimes the hardware your computer is using can be the reason you are at risk of all that has been mentioned above. While the software will be updated every day, your software might not be able to keep up. If the hardware you bought five years ago is the same that your computer is using today, one thing is for sure. You can only imagine how many times security software is updated through the five years.

Sometimes your (outdated) hardware may not allow updates with the latest patches and security measures. When your device can only accommodate older versions and types of malware protection software, they lack the updates meant to protect you from recent threats, thus creating a major potential vulnerability. It can be an expensive venture to keep updating your hardware, but it is all worth it for the sake of your cybersecurity. Just as you are keen to make sure you are utilizing the latest software, you should make sure the hardware you are using is updated as well.

6. Cloud Vulnerabilities

In the earlier days, data storage was a huge pain in the neck. The available storage disks at that time had limited capacity. They were also larger, meaning that they occupied a lot of physical space too. If you run a company, you would need to have more than a few hard disk drives and other available physical storage devices to ensure that all your data is stored and appropriately backed up. Today, however, we are in the era of cloud storage. It’s a convenient way of storing data and avoiding having to carry around several hard-disks.

Well, the advantage of this technology happens to also be its main weakness. While it provides an easier way out of the tussles of data storage, it also makes it easier for hackers to access any information they want from your cloud account if they manage to penetrate it. Here, some common threats include account hijacking and Denial of Service (DOS). The two are designed to prevent companies and individuals from being able to access their data.

Again, while one might argue that cloud storage is the best option for data management, it is important to note that no technology can eliminate vulnerabilities completely. This, therefore, means that whether you are using cloud technology for the storage of data or the traditional methods, a holistic approach would be the most effective. For instance, you could think of insurance as part of the cyber risk management plan. It will also not go unmentioned that having different cloud storage accounts will go a long way.

7. Security Patch Management

When a software program is introduced into the market, it is undergoing continuous development. Time after time, it has to undergo updates to fix issues that have been discovered while in use. Some of the issues that are fixed are meant to increase the security of the software and protect the users from cyber risks. This is why you are always advised to be on the lookout for newly released software update patches.

Not staying up-to-date with these patches makes the company vulnerable to security breaches. Attackers are always on the lookout for any software vulnerabilities and then launch cyber-attacks from that point. If for example, your software provider notices a point of weakness in their software, they will work on it and release the updated patch. If you fail to update yours you are left exposed. The lack of utilizing these software update patches have made the risk of cyber attacks to be on the upward curve. This is why, when an update is made on a globally used software, say Microsoft Windows, it has to be announced globally to make sure users are not at risk.

Cybersecurity is as important as the internet itself. Hackers, identity thieves, and fraudsters are always on the lookout for the next “meet” to feat on. The above are just a few things you should know about online security.

BALAJI is an Editor-in-Chief, Security Researcher, Author & Co-Founder of GBHackers On Security, Ethical Hackers Academy, Cyber Security News.

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