Also known as computer security, cyber security protects computer systems and networks from damage to their hardware, software, or electronic data. From banking passwords to million-dollar software integrations, everything we do online is guarded by some form of cyber security.
Why is cyber security important?
Everything is online: hospitals store billions of patient records in online databases; the control rooms of national power stations are connected to the internet; and a safe flight depends on hundreds of online systems. Without cyber security, patient data could be stolen and identities cloned. Your online banking wouldn't be encrypted, exposing your account to fraudsters. And power grids could be hacked, leaving entire cities without electricity.
Cyber security threats
Now is the most worrying time for cyber security. There are goldmines of data online, making it every hacker’s mission to sniff out the tiniest flaws in networks, systems, and devices. From individual account breaches to freezing corporate networks and holding world banks to ransom, cybercrime increased by 400% in 2020, making it the most depressing year for security, ever. The year of 2021 has already seen the looting of at least one laptop from the Capitol building and a breach of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.
So, how are hackers managing to breach everything from our wallets to our government? First, let’s quickly define the difference between cyberattacks, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism.
Types of cyber threats:
- Cybercrime involves bad actors stealing data from individuals and organizations, and exploiting systems for financial gain.
- Cyberattacks are incidents in which criminals launch hacks and malware infections against devices and networks, often using methods like phishing or DoS attacks.
- Cyberterrorism involves sophisticated operations to undermine systems, inciting fear and panic, often for political ends.
Common cybercriminal tactics
- Phishing scams: This is when cybercriminals trick you with an email or text message into handing over sensitive information like your work logins, debit card details, or Social Security number.
- Unpatched security vulnerabilities: If developers rely on flimsy perimeter security, it's often just a matter of time till the hackers pinpoint a weak spot. A “DevSecOps” approach weaves security into the code, creating a thoroughly armored beast from the get-go.
- Malware: Malware is malicious software that is used to disrupt systems; trojans, viruses, spyware, adware, botnets, and ransomware are all examples of malware. These programs can hold systems hostage and steal data behind the scenes.
- Denial-of-service attacks: A DoS attack floods a computer, network, or server with bogus traffic, making the target inaccessible to legitimate users.
- SQL injection: An SQL (structured language query) injection involves sneaking lines of malicious code through a Database Management System, and essentially tricking it into providing sensitive data. Although many websites have strengthened their defences against SQL injections, some older infrastructure is still at risk.
- Man-in-the-middle attacks: This method involves a hacker intercepting communications between two people, for the purposes of steal data or money (or both). For example, if you're connected to unsecured Wi-Fi, an attacker could intercept data that’s being passed between your device and the network. Use a VPN to encrypt your connection and keep your data secure.
5 simple cyber security tips
From the cyberattacks listed above, it’s clear that a lot of trouble can be avoided quite easily with a bit of vigilance and know-how. Here are our top five cyber safety tips:
- Don’t open email attachments from unknown senders: These could be infected with malware, which could steal your passwords and banking details. In 2015, Ukraine's electricity grid was hacked through a phishing email, leaving 250,000 people without electricity. As this demonstrates, a phishing email can often be the start of much larger, more damaging attacks.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi: Public Wi-fi is risky for several reasons. For one, it's rarely encrypted, so a hacker could access the router and view any data sent through it. Even worse, cybercriminals could create fake hotspots, with the names of local businesses or cafes, and trick people into using them. They could then spy on their activity and steal sensitive information. A VPN encrypts your device anytime it’s online, protecting you on public Wi-Fi.
- Use strong passwords: Passwords that rely on words, names, and simple numerical sequences can be cracked in milliseconds. Hackers use “brute-forcing” software to cycle through millions of potential login details until they find a match for yours. However, a truly complex, randomized password can take centuries to break. Consider using a password manager to generate and store unique, hard-to-crack credentials.
- Update your operating system and apps: Software updates contain security patches that fix bugs and other system vulnerabilities. Hackers also have more time to find flaws in older software versions; stay ahead of them by installing the latest updates as soon as they're available.
- Use antivirus software: It will help you detect and remove threats before they cause irreversible harm to your device or network.
Secure yourself today
It's easy to get comfortable with online security, and assume that websites and corporations will take care of our data for us. In reality, the person best suited to protect your privacy is you.
Get our ultra-strong password generator for all your accounts; this will make your online experience safer, and simpler. Always think twice before clicking on any unusual links, emails, or websites. And use a VPN on your phone and laptop to shield your traffic from snoopers and protect your sensitive data.
With one account, you can use the NordVPN app on up to six devices. All you have to do is switch it on, connect to one of our servers, and you’ll be instantly protected.