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How To Stay Safe Online

In insight / By Ellen Bowers / 31 July 2017

According to new research by recruitment finance provider, Sonovate, IT security professionals are currently the most sought-after workers in the UK’s growing jobs market. The growth for such roles has reached 19 per cent – a new year-on-year high and is expected to reach 30 percent over the next year. It’s easy to see why the rise in cybercrime is becoming an increasing concern for businesses. However, it is not just businesses that need to be cautious of cybercrime, it is no longer about fancy hacks and sophisticated exploits, anyone can fall victim to cybercrime via their own personal email account.

In recent times, we’ve seen an increase in the number of payment requests and fake invoice emails which appear to have been sent by well-respected organisations like PayPal and Apple. However, these emails have only one intention; to scare and force us to pay out our hard-earned cash to criminals.

It is no longer enough to simply click on the red cross to get rid of popups, or push that ‘YOU’VE WON!!’ email over to your spam folder. Lots of scams created for emails slip through our spam filters because they do not use any keywords to trigger email provider’s systems and are cleverly constructed to look almost identical to the real thing.

Below are a few tips and tricks to avoid scammers and maintain a happy, safe and pleasant online experience.

Don’t use lazy passwords

For the last 6 years in a row ‘123456’ has been voted the worst password of the year – a worthy winner, I think we can all agree – so it’s probably best to avoid this one. Runners up included the ever so original ‘password’ and ‘12345.’

Although you’ve probably heard these tips a hundred times, they aren’t floating around the internet for no reason. Creating strong, unique passwords for all of you accounts is the best way to stay safe online. Make sure you use a mixture of upper and lower-case characters, numbers, and special characters. Try making your password 8 characters long, at least.

Avoid using the same credentials for different websites, as this will give hackers the ultimate foot in the door to your online accounts.

Keep your software up to date

To stay as safe as possible it’s highly recommended that you keep your software up to date, don’t ignore those annoying software update popups, at least then if you do click on a dodgy email you’ve got the latest software on your side. Security software can help protect you against many types of more commonly used malware – it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Be cautious of what you post online

It’s important to keep in mind that everything that you post on a social network is public, so be sure not to give out any personal details such as address or bank details. Although it may not feel like it, it is the equivalent of shouting the details in the middle of a crowded street - it is helpful to keep that in mind when online.

Appearances can be deceiving

As mentioned previously, phishing emails are becoming increasingly common, scammers try to trick you into thinking they’re from your bank, apple or PayPal, lulling you into a false sense of security. If you get an email from someone like a bank, eBay or PayPal, saying there is a problem with your account, forward it to the company in question to get confirmation it's from them. Most companies will never ask you for your password. Try googling some of the content of the emails to see if anything flags up online, for example, Nationwide bank has an archive of known email scams in circulation. Always make sure to check the sender's full email address, don’t simply be fooled by the deceptive use of logos within the email.

Even emails from you own contacts can be used to scam you. Robert Fox, a journalist for the Evening Standard, told of how his email contacts were all sent an email saying he was stuck in Cyprus after having his passport and wallet stolen and asking for money. Some of his friends willingly transferred funds to what they thought was his account. All of this was done when a hacker got into his account, changed passwords and locked him out. Hackers even go so far as to study the communication style of the victim that they’re impersonating, via social media, so as not to raise any suspicion. So if you receive any unusual emails from your friends, take a minute to check the details and remain cautious.

Beware of ransomware

Another rising trend in cybercrime in ‘ransomware’ – the act of turning a machine against its owner, taking a device hostage and demanding money to return it. Worryingly the viruses that carry out these attacks are becoming increasingly common and normal nti-virus protection doesn’t always pick up on this type of virus – so there’s no way to know if you’re going to be targeted.

Ransomware takes over a victim’s computer completely, locking up years of invaluable photos and sensitive documents and refusing to return them until a ransom is paid, usually in BitCoin – so there is no way to trace the transaction. The virus doesn’t just encrypt documents stored on the computer, they can also encrypt files across the network – on server drivers and remove local Backups. This type of cybercrime isn’t just limited to desktops or laptops either, there have been cases on Android phones and even Smart TVs.

With just over 3.7 billion of us online in 2017, it's only logical to become concerned with how safe the web really is. You should never underestimate the importance of internet security and in order to stay safe, cyber-security needs to become an active part of your online life rather than a reaction to a disaster.

Outsourcing cyber security

One option for SMBs keen to focus on growing the business is to outsource cyber security to an expert third party. It’s an increasingly popular choice for smaller firms because they can benefit greatly from the fact that their provider is typically able to invest far more into cyber security processes and controls than they.

At Nasstar we focus on building multiple layers of security and take a best-of-breed approach, investing in products from industry leading security vendors. And we ensure our datacentres are geographically dispersed and use multiple redundant connections, boosting BC/DR efforts. Just as importantly, we ensure staff are continuously trained in the latest cyber security skills.

In the end cyber security is not something you can do once and forget about. It will only have a lasting impact if you create that all-important cyber-savvy culture in your organisation. That comes from the top down, and it spreads via effective training and regular updates to ensure best practice is always front of mind for staff.

That’s why as a managed service provider, Nasstar puts a major focus on education and training – of our own staff and those of our clients. Security is present at every layer of our organisation, and it can be in yours too.

Ellen Bowers

Ellen Bowers

Ellen is a freelancer writers for various British technology companies, she writes regularly for The Nasstarian on a wide range of subjects.

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