June 25, 2017

Cyber Security 101

The Internet has an estimated population of 7,182,406,565 with Africa making 9.8% of the total population. Online security has become a paramount concern for many Internet users following a recent spike in various forms of cyber attacks. As the number of computers, smart devices, digital applications and networks increase, huge amounts of data are stored and transmitted creating more opportunities for these systems to be exploited. This means certain precautions have to be taken to safeguard sensitive information from hackers and cyber bullies. This article should teach you how to protect yourself, company, family and devices so you stay safe online, always.

 What is Cyber Security?

Cybersecurity is the term encompassing the use of technologies and processes designed to protect networks, computers, softwares and data from unintended or unauthorized access. Individuals, governments, firms and other establishments collect, process and store a great deal of confidential information on computers that transmit data over the Internet. With the increase and severity of cyber attacks, Cyber Security is required to protect people and their information as well as safeguard national security.

Common Security Terms

More often than not, people easily misunderstand (or probably don’t know) some of the terms used in Cyber Security. To help, I’ve created a list of commonly used terms and what they mean. So learn cyber speak by familiarizing yourself with these terms.

Access: This is the ability to communicate or interact with a system in order to use it’s resources, gain knowledge of the information it contains or control it’s components and functions.

Anti-Virus (Anti-Malware):An antivirus is a security program that runs on computers such as desktops and smartphones and protects them by identifying malware and preventing their infection. Anti-virus programs are available for free or at a fee. Popular anti-virus products include Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Malwarebytes.

Bot:A bot is a computer connected to the Internet that has been compromised by an attacker to perform certain activities under their remote commands. A botnet is a group of bots at different locations connected to perform attacks collectively under the command of the attacker.

Cryptography: This involves the use of mathematical techniques to provide data integrity and various forms of authentication. For example, If your Facebook password is “password@1”, it’s hashed into “reaefdj3409042sfskjdsk29” to prevent people from seeing your real password.

Exploit: An exploit is a program designed to take advantage of vulnerability in a system. It will usually allow the attacker to gain entrance into the compromised system to perform various functions like data theft and corruption.

Malware: Malware is the acronym for Mal-icious Soft-ware. It’s any type of software attackers use to perform malicious actions. There are different types of malware based on the different functions they are designed to perform. However modern malwares combine characteristics of the different types of malware in a single program. The functions could include that of a “Virus”, which propagates itself by infecting and/or corrupting other files and computers, “Spyware”, which is designed to spy on the targeted computer and capture sensitive data such as passwords, screenshots, and keystrokes and “Adware” which is designed to randomly display advertisements on your computer, redirect your web pages and collect data about your browsing habits.

Why You Need Cyber Security

There are a number of reasons for this. The start of the year has seen an increased number of cyber attacks notable among them is the hacking of the Government of Ghana’s websites, University of Cape Coast’s website and a major worldwide cyber attack which led to millions of dollars being stolen from the biggest banks. These activities can be attributed to “Hackers”, I call them cyber ninjas – they are all over the web doing something nefarious. Hackers make use of loopholes in softwares (like your Windows OS) and gain control over your computer through backdoors they create. They then compromise your personal and private information such as account passwords, bank account credentials or classified information. Hackers don’t only steal your stuff but can use your computer as a bot in attacking other networks.

Types of Cyber Crimes

Crimes committed over the Internet are known as cyber crimes. According to this Cyber Security website, the estimated annual cost of cybercrime is over $100bn with 18 victims per second and this is very frightening. Forms of cyber crimes include the use of virus and various malware, phishing, scams and social engineering. There are many types of cyber crimes and the most common ones are explained below.

  • Hacking: Hacking is type of cybercrime in which the victims computer is broken into and sensitive information retrieved. Currently, Ghana has no laws (that I know of) against hacking. Hacking isn’t always bad, in ethical hacking (or “white hat” hacking in Internet slang), a computer security expert ensures the security of an organization’s systems through penetration testing and other hacking methodologies. Black hat hacking on the other side involves the use of malware to gain remote access to a victim’s computer in order to cause harm.
  • Theft: This crime occurs when someone infringes copyrights and downloads various content such as music, movies, games and software from peer sharing or file hosting websites which encourage piracy. As a result of checks being put in place to tackle cyber theft, various websites including Pirate Bay and Megashare were shut down.
  • Malicious Software: This is software that is specifically designed to gain access or cause damage to a computer without the knowledge of the user. Malwares spread through various media such as the Internet, removable drives and email attachments.
  • Scams: Scamming is the process of defrauding or swindling someone, usually over the Internet. Victims of scams seem to be overwhelmingly from the USA and UK and majority of the attacks from Ghana and Nigeira

Online safety 101

It’s impossible to stay 100% safe online but there are a few tricks you can use to be safer.

  1. Create Strong Passwords
    Many people use simple passwords that are easy to remember and make it very easy for hackers to gain access to their accounts. I once guessed usernames and passwords for internet accounts at Busy Internet and had access to over 10 accounts. Making a complex password which is regularly changed will keep you safer online. These guidelines can help you choose a secure password:
    – Use passwords that have at least eight characters.
    – Your passwords should contain both uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols. For example, gH5c!enTiF1C is better than ghscientific.
    – Change your passwords frequently. It can be once a month or every 90 days. Make sure you never share them with anyone or write them down anywhere.
    – Use different passwords for every account you have on the internet else if someone steals the password for one of your accounts, the rest of your accounts will be compromised. I developed a naming system for my passwords to help me choose and remember them easily. For instance, I use @fb@–bf@1 as my facebook password and @gmail@–liamg@2 for my gmail password.
  1. Be Vigilant When Surfing
    Hackers will try to acquire information about you through emails, websites or pop-ups that seem legitimate. If you are on any website or receive an email asking you to provide sensitive information you have never provided before, closing the page is the best option to keep you safe from being attacked.
    – Observe the website addresses of the website you visit. You can be redirected to a fake website which looks exactly like the original. You could be redirected to “prefectmoney.net” instead of “perfectmoney.is”.
    – Do not enter any information such as your credit card number or other banking details especially on a website you don’t know.
    -Check the security lock in your browser to confirm the website is protected. The image below shows a comparison between a secured website and one which isn’t.

Cybersecurity

You can go an extra step by clicking on the lock icon to display the website’s certificate and see if it matches with the website address of the website. If it doesn’t, then the website might be malicious. Also look for “https” on banking and other websites which you want to use securely.

  1. Use Genuine and Updated Antivirus Software
    Most malware are designed to steal every sensitive information about you and gain access to your accounts, track your moves or even spam you. Using a genuine anti malware program and regularly updating it keeps you protected from all forms of malware. I personally recommend Bitdefender
  1. Keep Your System Updated
    You need to always update your operating system and the softwares installed on your computer or smartphone, especially your web browser. Old softwares have security holes which hackers can exploit to gain entrance into your system and need to be patched. Don’t be annoyed when you are reminded to update your programs.
  1. Avoid Using Unsecured And Unknown Wifi Networks
    Lots of us surf the web using unsecured wifi networks. Hackers can take advantage of this to sniff out passwords and other sensitive data users send over the network. Hackers can also create fake wifi networks to lure users to connect to them and then launch attacks on their victims. I once experimented with a software which enabled me to see the usernames and passwords of people who visited websites like facebook and yahoo on an open wifi network. Putting a password on your wireless router will be a sure way to keep the hackers at bay. You can also use VPN softwares like this one to secure your browsing over an unsecured internet connection.

With the increase in attempts by people to hack various mobile money accounts as well as electronic cards, these safety measures should keep you protected from being a victim .
– Do not use PINs that are easy to guess or have anything to do with important events in your life. For example, avoid choosing pins like 1111, 4321, your year of birth, etc.
– Keep your PIN secret and don’t share it with anyone. You will never be asked for your PIN from your service provider. Call customer support to reset your PIN when you feel it has been compromised.
– Remain vigilant and ensure your phone or card is always in your possession.

As the Internet gets bigger and activities on it continue to increase, the demand for online security becomes a major concern. Cyber criminals are smart lads. They devise new ways to penetrate systems no matter what checks are in place and cause a lot of damage in no time. As stakeholders in the security industry bring on board new methods to keep us protected, the hackers also innovate and produce more sophisticated threats and exploits, hence we have to remain vigilant and be on guard, reinforcing every Cyber Security measures we have available to us. Once you have employed adequate security for your computing devices, you should be less bothered about cyber attacks.


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