Cyber crime is one of the fastest-growing and most potentially damaging hazards that come with living in the digital age. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has identified three categories of cyber crimes as most prevalent:
- Cyber attacks target computer systems. They include computer viruses such as worms and Trojan horses, as well as denial of service attacks and electronic vandalism or sabotage.
- Cyber theft involves crimes in which a computer is used to steal money or information. It includes embezzlement, fraud, theft of intellectual property and theft of personal or financial data.
- Other computer security threats include spyware, adware, hacking, phishing, spoofing, pinging and port scanning. One thing to note: an attempt is a crime regardless of whether the breach is successful.
Incidents of cyber crime can also involve preying on individuals and groups through cyber abuse and online bullying. Cyber crime manages to reach nearly every group of people and all types of organizations through one mechanism or another. Research indicates one in six adults have experienced some incident of electronic threat or crime.
The Cost of Cyber Crime
In terms of dollars lost to companies and individuals, as well as what it costs the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to fight it, cyber crime costs billions of dollars. According to the Infosec Institute, cyber crime costs the United States $100 billion a year and $300 billion globally. As more and more business activity and personal interactions move to online platforms, this is a number that will likely continue its upward trend.
Protecting Yourself from Cyber Crime
What can be done to fight cyber crime? The good news is that you have several ways to protect yourself, your family and your electronic devices from the threat of shadowy cyber activity.
- Use smart passwords.
The simpler your passwords are, the more they put you at risk. Make sure they're at least eight characters long and contain a variety of letters, numbers and symbols. Keep them in a secure place, and don't share them with anyone you don't completely trust. Use a phrase as a memory aid to help you create and remember a more complex password structure.
- Be careful when visiting websites.
Unfamiliar websites or objectionable content sites are well-known breeding grounds for cyber attacks. Consider avoiding those where you run the risk of being exposed to potential cyber criminals.
- Consider installing reliable anti-virus, anti-spyware and Internet filtering programs on your devices.
These threefold protective systems help ensure that you don't accidentally encounter viruses or hacking threats. After you've downloaded one of these programs, be sure to install any updates as soon as they become available or consider turning on an auto-update feature if available. One of the most common ways cyber criminals gain access to electronic devices is by hacking outdated systems.
- Keep your computer's operating system up-to-date.
According to the FBI, this can go a long way toward protecting your device. Computer operating systems are updated periodically to stay in tune with technological advancements and to fix security holes. Install updates to ensure your computer has the latest protection, as old versions may become unsupported by their authors over time.
- Download carefully.
Dangerous e-mail attachments can circumvent even the most vigilant anti-virus software. Beware of opening anything from someone you don't know. You should even be wary of forwarded attachments from people you do know. E-mail attachments can contain malicious code intended to harm your computer or electronic devices.
- Shut down your computer when it's not in use.
It's tempting to leave it on at all times so you have quick access when you need it, but the more time your computer stays on, the more time each day it's vulnerable. Powering your computer off on a regular basis effectively eliminates a hacker's connection, and allows auto-updating to occur as needed when you reconnect.
As much as privacy protections and online vulnerabilities have changed in the last decade, as new platforms for business and personal traffic emerge, weakness points will keep shifting. Fortunately, online security has become a core concern for any new technical offer. Technologists understand that people will always want their information to be secure, their identifying information to be protected, and cyber crime risks to be mitigated.