23 October 2014

Cyber Security Awareness - How To Avoid Online Hacker Attacks And Scams


October is National Cyber Security Awareness month, and there can be no better way of celebrating this period other than reminding ourselves afresh, and spreading the word around, on the ways and methods of keeping ourselves, families, friends (even enemies) and information safe online.

Cyber Security Awareness - How To Avoid Online Hacker Attacks And Scams

Hacking Methods

Hacking, according to Wikipedia is the ability "...to access computer networks, legally or otherwise". There could be no better way to refresh ourselves on internet and computer security than to remind ourselves of the ever-looming presence of wicked online hackers and also take a closer look at their most recent methods to accessing our information illegally without our permission.

1). Online Scams

Attempts at scamming people have gradually gotten much more sophisticated over the years. In the past, it was simply a matter of sending out unsolicited emails with cooked up stories so you part with your hard-earned money. Today, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov) lists dozens of variations of email and online scams - from fraudulent automobile auctions to online dating schemes - in its annual internet crime report. These are popular internet activities and unsuspecting victims are easily sucked in.

In 2013 alone, more than a quarter of a million complaints related to online scams were submitted to the FBI. And did I hear you say, "Ah! These stuff happen only to the elderly who know nothing of the internet!" Do not be deceived because nothing can be farther from the truth. FBI records show one-fifth of victims last year were younger than 30 years. Our message? Everyone has to be careful.

2). Phishing

Phishing is gradually becoming the order of the day. This utterly despicable form of internet crime involve the use of legitimate-looking websites to trick unsuspecting victims into sharing their sensitive information like username or password.

Phishers design fake websites to look exactly like that of your bank, credit card issuer or other financial institution. The trick they use here is that you would not realize you are on a fake website since it has exactly the same design as that of the original one, so you go ahead to punch in your username, password and other sensitive details like you would normally do on the real site. These phishers then use these information you entered on their fake sites to log into your real accounts and transfer your money out to their own. Our message? Confirm every site before you input any sensitive information.

3). Data Breaches

Massive data breaches occur ever so often, and are all aimed at illegally obtaining your information. This method involves a very large number of cyber-criminals competing amongst themselves looking for the big score. Recent hacks of Home Depot (breached September 2014 - see Home Depot Payment System Breach and AllClear ID apology), Target (breached December 2013 - see Target confirms stolen data and Breach affected millions) and other major retailers have led to millions of credit card numbers being compromised.

How do these hackers benefit from this, you ask? They turn around and sell these card numbers on a black market website to anyone who might be willing to buy them. Our message? Keep an eye and ear out for news of such breaches on your favorite shopping (or banking or other) platform and, if it does happen, do the needful - inform the authorities, move money from the account linked to the breached card or do other action(s) as advised by your institution.

How You Can Stay Protected

What can you and I do to protect ourselves from these sophisticated but wicked-hearted online hoodlums who would stop at nothing to gain access to your sensitive information and other online data. The following have been found extremely useful.

1). Vigilance

The number one protection is from YOU! Be vigilant always! Be careful to check out every website before you part with any information, especially your sensitive data like passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. Look out for slightly misspelled words or words that use unexpected characters, such as substituting a "0" (number) with an "O" (letter) - for example, H0ME DEP0T.

If anything at all looks a little bit fishy, delete the email or close the website immediately. If you have already entered any detail, inform your bank, or any other institution, immediately. For more on this and other safety warnings, please see these extremely important tips for a safe online transaction.

2). Browser Bookmarks

Rather than clicking on links in emails you receive, it is much safer to create bookmarks in your browser to commonly used sites, like your bank, insurance company, shopping portal, etc., and use those bookmarks every time you want to visit those sites. That way, you know you are always going to the right website, rather than trusting an email that could have been sent by anyone.

Remember that even your most trusted friend or family member may inadvertently copy/paste information from the internet onto an email they send to you without knowing there are compromised links therein. If you open such links directly from the email, you put yourself at serious risk.

3). 2-Factor Authentication

More and more sites, especially those of financial institutions, are using two-factor authentication. With such methods, after logging in with your password, the site will text or email you a single-use code that must be entered on that site before proceeding. Only the phone number or email address you registered with the institution will receive the code, making it much harder, almost impossible, for hackers to gain unauthorized access into your accounts.

4). Protected Servers

Consumers may not have direct control over how companies store their information, but with larger and larger hacks occurring regularly, you have a right to demand that companies take more responsibility for securing your personal information. For example, your institution or company could employ the services of cloud hosting companies like SingleHop, which embed security features into their dedicated servers at the physical access level all the way down to the network, server, application and account levels.

Close monitoring along with antivirus protection, application patching, private networking and firewalls all work to ensure that company data is protected and isolated.

Learn more: Internet Safety - Common Sources of Viruses and Spyware

Finally, have you had any online encounters or want to share any useful comments or suggestions on any online security or breach? Please do! We invite you to use the Comments section below to share your thoughts and experiences as we celebrate this very important topic.


  1. Yes Ikenna this is surely a great write up, and I enjoyed reading it but its also good to point out that cyber criminals are not always wicked guys out there waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims.

    You and I (and your readers) can also become cyber criminals when we download music, images, or movies without the legal consent of the copyright owners. In fact, these acts are so bad that many people have been put behind bars for it. So the next time you want to download a music, image, or movie file; be sure to do so with the legal consent of the copyright owner(s)

    1. Hello African Justice, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the article. It is appreciated. Thanks!