What is a cyber attack?
Cyber attacks are targeted efforts carried out through the Internet in order to spread dangerous programs, steal personal information, or otherwise harm the public, a private business or even a government organization.
According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, cyber attacks aren’t always easy to spot and stop.
The impact of a cyber attack could cause the deletion of entire computer systems.
The U.S. DHS identifies the possible risks of a cyber attack as:
- National security threats to the country through organized cyber attacks, state-sponsored hackers, and “cyber espionage.”
- Disruption of services such as transportation or utilities, which can be effected by cyber attacks.
- Data breach threats including the possibility of a company’s data being stolen, leading to identify theft of employees or customers.
- Intrusion on privately owned computers, cellular phones, game systems or tablets that connect to the Internet, which could put sensitive information in the hands of attackers.
How do cyber attacks occur?
There is no one single method employed by those who use cyber attacks; in fact, there are a number of ways a cyber attack can be carried out.
Some attacks use malicious software – “malware” – to infect computers.
This could be one computer belonging to one victim, or it could be a series of computers and networks used by a business or a government.
Criminals look for vulnerabilities to break into computers and carry out their cyber attacks.
Some might have political agendas; others may be looking only to steal a bank account number or the identity of a victim.
How do I avoid a cyber attack?
While it may be impossible to completely avoid the threat, the Department of Homeland Security has a number of tips to help keep you safe online:
- Don’t click on email attachments or links sent from untrusted or unknown sources.
- Connect to the Internet only using secure, password-protected networks.
- When browsing the web, type in a web address by hand rather than relying on a link.
- Never provide personal, private identification information when requested to do so, because most legitimate banks and businesses will not ask for those details over the Internet.
- Report suspicious activity to the right law enforcement agency.
- When using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, limit what you share with others. You may need to review your privacy settings.
- Don’t use the same password twice, and change your passwords regularly.
Keep your computer protected
It’s also important to maintain up-to-date security software, such as anti-virus programs, which could detect and stop many of the threats presented during a cyber attack.
If you feel your computer has been compromised, disconnect it from the Internet and proceed to restore your system.
Be sure you’ve frequently backed up your files before restoring a computer system.
If you believe bank information has been stolen, notify the proper institutions of the threat and keep a close eye on your bank activity and other bills.
Also, regularly check your credit score.
You can also report cyber attacks to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or the U.S. Secret Service’s Electronic Crimes Task Force, which was established by Congress.