Being swindled of one’s hard-earned money after ignorantly falling for a phishing attack is a terrible situation with lasting effects on a victim. In some cases, the damage can be so deep-seated that the victim, who may be a teenage boy or an elderly grandmother, takes their own life in frustration.
Apparently, online security is not just about the very attacks, but also about the ripple effects they cause.
Most concerns about cyber-attacks do not address the personal impacts that they have on individuals. They focus instead on the corporate world and companies, which are better insulated against them, both by investing in appropriate security infrastructure and through insurance covers, which lessen the burdens of recovery.
Globally, individuals who were victims of cyber attacks lost a combined 2.1 billion hours and an average of nearly 6 hours (besides a few outliers) trying to resolve the attacks. So says the 2019 Cyber Safety Insights Report published by Norton LifeLock earlier this year. In many cases, people who were affected financially never get their money back.
These impacts of cyber attacks (loss of time, money, sensitive personal information, etc.) have a far-reaching effect on the mental and emotional wellbeing of the affected. The feelings that victims experience include worry, anguish, frustration, sadness, depression, not to mention helplessness. That is why we need to take personal online security more seriously.
Most people wouldn’t need more than basic personal security hygiene measures to get by, as well as adequate awareness of the malicious schemes of attackers in order to be properly guarded against them. Some of the important practices that individuals must embrace include the following:
- Password Hygiene
This is a common vulnerability that malicious actors constantly exploit. Proper password management begins with not using weak passwords, in the first place. Passwords such as 123456, qwerty, password, abc123, iloveyou, admin, welcome, etc. are far too common to serve as adequate protection for your devices. Consult the chart below to know how secure your password is.
As part of password hygiene, you should avoid using the same password to access multiple accounts. If an attacker successfully hacks one of your passwords, they automatically can access all your accounts if you used the same password. And you don’t want that.
Most people complain about being unable to remember all their passwords. Nowadays, you don’t have to; there are many secure password management services you can use to keep track of them without worry.
- Avoiding Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks employ a method called social engineering, where they try to manipulate a person’s emotions. Avoiding these attacks require a lot of vigilance.
Phishing attacks bank on your trust, so you should treat every email as suspicious particularly the ones that purportedly come from reliable sources and authorities, such as bank emails.
You should be very vigilant when the email is unsolicited and is requesting something sensitive from you, such as your bank details, personal information, or money.
Sometimes, these emails appear really genuine and everything seems to cross out. Then you might want to conduct extra verification.
Say, you receive a panic email from a ‘friend’ who needs some cash bail out, before handing out the money, you may want to make a phone call to that friend to be sure that they are really the one. Likewise, be very hesitant to open links and media or download attachments sent to you via email, especially when they are unprompted but also when they are solicited. Attackers might use them to remotely install malware on your computer.
- Public WiFi Safety
When you browse on an unprotected public wi-fi, you are exposing your online activities. A hacker doesn’t even need to try hard to access your information. That’s why you must avoid sharing your personal information on public wi-fi, no matter the reason.
That means no logging into social media accounts, no filling of forms asking for sensitive details, no paying for anything with a credit card, etc. You never can tell if the network is compromised or not.
If you absolutely must enter personal information while on public Wi-Fi, then it is advisable to use a VPN, which can be downloaded for free. A VPN encrypts your online data and transmits it to a remote server (away from public visibility or interference) so that you can access the internet securely and completely anonymously.
Other important practices to adopt include:
- Updating your device software from time to time. Updates come with security enhancements to deal with the latest discovered threats.
- Use strong anti-virus protection and firewalls.
- Enable multi-factor authentication on your accounts.
- Backup your data regularly; if you are hacked, you would not lose significant data.
- Don’t leave devices unattended. If you have to step away, ensure that they are locked.
Recovering From an Attack
The question that is probably on your mind is that, what if all this fails? Of course, there is always a possibility that there is a gap, possibly tiny, left open. Even big corporations fear this.
When faced with an attack, you need to remain clear headed, as difficult as that may be. If your personal information is exposed in a data breach or you suspect such, visit the FTC’s identity theft portal to view the next line of action depending on the information (you suspect was) lost or stolen. Time is of essence. And the sooner you seek help, the better for you.
Note that cyber insurance for individuals is an option. Depending on the arrangement, it can cover anything from the simple removal of virus and malware from affected devices to reimbursing you in the case of financial losses. You can also get access to fraud specialists who would assist you throughout the recovery process.
No one has to go through the pain of a cyber attack. But it is high time we started treating online security as seriously as we treat physical security. In this age, we are our data and our data lives online. Therefore, securing our data is protecting ourselves and of course, protecting our mental and emotional wellbeing.