Dr. Lynne Williams, Purdue University Global Faculty, MSIT and MSCM Programs
Target, Home Depot, even the U.S. Internal Revenue service have all suffered high-profile security breaches in recent years. They’re all large organizations, so they make more attractive targets for the hackers; isn’t that true? Well, no, it might have been true ten years ago, but the fact is that hackers have now (in 2016) automated their activities to such an extent that they no longer bother to discriminate between the big targets and individuals. Using conduits through the dark web, even the least talented hacker can pick up easy-to-use development kits for creating a variety of professional-grade weaponry for attacking computerized systems on a mass scale.
We’re living in the age of the Advanced Persistent Threat [APT] which means that the bad guys are throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at any type of internet-connected device. Your Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone is just as desirable as a bank’s database so far as the black hats are concerned.
There’s a range of advice for protecting yourself and your data that could be given here, but all of it really boils down to one thing: be very cautious and use your common sense. One of the key elements to almost any successful hack is social engineering, which is the ability to trick you into thinking that something you see on your device is genuine when it is not. Phishing emails purporting to be from Nigerian princes or the IRS are a good example. If you visit the IRS web site before you click the link in the email, you’ll see that the IRS never ever sends taxpayers official information via email: https://www.irs.gov/uac/suspicious-e-mails-and-identity-theft
There are a variety of websites that can help you determine whether information you’ve received is a scam or is genuine, such as Snopes.com. Never click anything you’ve received in an email, even if the email is purporting to be from your bank or the government. Instead, go to the organization’s website and contact it directly to see if anyone has sent you something.
Most internet users are aware that they should be using anti-malware applications on any internet-connected device, and there are also other technical safeguards, such as using a firewall on your home network, that are useful. But the bottom line for keeping yourself and your data safe is to use your common sense, and don’t let yourself be fooled.