October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a good time to review safety measures for protecting our online lives. Unfortunately, it’s not just large businesses and online sites that are victimized by cyber-criminals — it happens to individuals, too, which recently happened to someone we know.
Cyber-Criminals Hacked Into a Writer’s Computer
One of the Guns, Gams and Gumshoes has a writer-friend whose computer was recently hacked by cyber-criminals who blocked her access to all files on her hard-drive. A horrible situation as she was nearing the end of finishing a novel and could no longer access any of the book files.
The cyber-criminals demanded a ransom if she wanted access to her files again. Hoping her computer-tech shop could find a way to get her files back, she took in her computer for analysis. Unfortunately, they could do nothing, only verify that her hard drive had been locked by “ransomware.”
Ransom Kept Increasing
Meanwhile, every day the cyber-criminals increased the ransom. With a heavy heart, she paid the ransom, and access to her files was returned. She immediately bought a new computer, a different brand, and her tech-computer shop helped set up her files along with stronger cyber-security.
One Click and the Cyber-Hacker Was In
Sadly, cyber-criminals gained access to her computer via her clicking on a single link in an email she thought was sent by a close friend. A reminder to all of us to never click on a link in an email, or other electronic communication, before verifying your friend/associate/whomever was the sender.
Six Ways to Safeguard Your Computer
Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Shaun Kaufman, a criminal lawyer, shares these six tips for protecting your computer (via shaunkaufmanlaw.com):
- Maintain updated computer software & apps. Setting up automatic updates is ideal because if you or your webmaster is logging in to update software/apps, that means there were bugs present prior to the update, and bugs = vulnerabilities.
- Download from official sites only. There’s a lot of free stuff available for download on the Internet, but you can end up downloading a lot of problems along with that freebie app, program, whatever. Therefore, download from official sites only. It’s also a good idea to be conservative in the number of downloads, too.
- Create unique passwords with upper & lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. I know, you’ve probably heard this password warning a gazillion times, but making passwords easy to guess, or using the same password across multiple sites, invites a cyber-criminal to pay a visit. Some people say you shouldn’t use a password manager as some are fraudulent. I don’t use a password manager, nor do I have any idea which ones might be corrupted, so I’ll leave that topic for you to further research.
- Cover your computer camera. I just read about this security measure the other day. Seems hackers have taken over people’s computer cameras without their knowledge (with no light indicators alerting the users, either). I can see the reasoning behind this — for example, you’re speaking to someone on your phone about a confidential business manner while you’re at your computer, that dialogue could be captured by cyber-criminals. Even if the audio isn’t captured, the computer user is so close to the camera, lip-reading could be easy. Covering the camera with a piece of tape is easy to do. Then remove the tape when you want to use the camera.
- Use encryption software. This site ranks the top encryption software products and their prices:10TopTenReviews: 2015 Best Encryption Software Review
- Backups. Regularly back up your files — especially those book files, writers! –and store them offline. (Thanks, @Mededitor)
Stay Safe Online: Tips for keeping a clean computer, protecting your personal files and more.
Homeland Security: Events, tips and related links for National Cyber Security Awareness Month
FBI Website: Cyber-criminal facts, FBI’s cyber-threat investigations and additional resources
All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.