Cyber threats are unsolicited, purposeful attempts to breach another person or company’s computer system to steal, adjust or destroy its data. Given how valuable data is in today’s digital landscape, data breaches can have devastating effects on both individuals and businesses alike. If you spend a lot of time online for work or personal reasons, it’s important to have a solid understanding of cybersecurity basics so you can protect yourself. Here is a lowdown on cybersecurity for beginners and how to stay safe.
The most common cyber threats
Here are some of the most common attacks that fall under the cyber threats umbrella:
- Short for “malicious software,” malware exploits weaknesses to breach a system or network. It can take many forms: ransomware, spyware, adware, viruses, worms and Trojan horses. Once malware has been downloaded onto a device, it can install programs, track your data, lock you out of your own systems or block access to your files until you hand over a sum of money (aka a “ransom”).
- Phishing emails. You’re probably all too familiar with these email scams. Cybercriminals impersonate individuals or companies to try to trick you into handing over data or access to your device. Phishing emails appear to be authentic, and sent from trusted sources like banks or healthcare providers. They’re effective for those reasons, plus they tend to prey on emotions like fear or anxiety to inspire recipients to take action, which might look like clicking on a link or attachment.
- Man-in-the-middle attack (MitM). This is essentially the tech version of eavesdropping. A hacker is the “man in the middle” who wrangles their way into a two-party transaction. From that point, any communication between the client and server is funnelled through the hacker, often leading to a data breach.MitM attacks originate a few ways, but public WiFi networks are one of the most common culprits.
- Botnets attacks. A botnet is a network of devices remotely controlled by a hacker, and some cybercriminals make use of these to carry out attacks against large-scale businesses and corporations. For example, Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks restrict your access to sites and other internet services.
3 practical ways to protect yourself from cyber threats
The best way to prevent falling victim to cyber threats is by setting up simple cybersecurity tips and practices. The good news? The cybersecurity basics for beginners are easier than you think.
#1 Create strong passwords, and use two-factor authentication
Ideally, you should have a unique password for every account. The goal is to make your passwords complex, so they’re hard to guess. Avoid any personal identifying information (like pet or child names), and aim for a minimum of 12 characters made up of a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. The more random the password, the better! Once you’ve created a strong password, set a reminder to change it regularly — every three months is a good rule of thumb.
If keeping track of all your passwords sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone. It may be worth investing in a premium password manager. This type of software acts as a vault, securing your passwords and notifying you if one of them has been compromised. The best password managers can also generate passwords for you.
To step up your cybersecurity, opt into two-factor authentication (2FA) across any available accounts. With 2FA activated, you’ll need to provide two pieces of information before your login is successful — making it much harder for hackers to do their job.
#2 Learn how to identify phishing emails
Phishing emails have always been a problem, but they’ve become pervasive since the pandemic when cybercriminals took advantage of the shift to remote work.
To combat phishing scams, carefully check any emails you receive and don’t open emails from unknown senders.
These are some of the red flags to look out for when you’re vetting emails:
- Spelling errors and strange turns of phrase.
- Unfamiliar email addresses or sender names.
- Unsolicited attachments.
- Links leading to unknown websites.
- Attachments in rare file forms, like .exe.
- Content that asks for your login details or sensitive financial information
- A sense of urgency — remember, phishing emails try to get you to act based on emotion.
If you come across a suspicious email, avoid clicking on any links or attachments. Report the email as spam, either with your email provider or your company’s IT department.
#3 Install an essential antivirus software
Think of antivirus software like a security guard — it’s an extra layer of defence that can protect your devices, data and digital footprint.
Premium software like ESET Smart Security Premium works to prevent a diverse range of cyberattacks on both Macs and PCs, such as malware and phishing scams. It blocks offensive content and scans attachments and images for viruses. You can install the software on up to three devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Be sure to accept all software updates to keep your security up to date. Manufacturers constantly release patches to address new vulnerabilities and threats, so it’s important to stay on top of those notifications. Our advice? Switch to auto updates to stay on top of your cybersecurity basics.