Online attacks are very real and frequent. A new Windows computer will be hacked within 20 minutes of connecting to the internet. This fact will be explored further later in this article.
In the US this month, it is the inaugural Cyber Security Awareness Month. This post is in part an effort to promote this cause.
As our lives go online more regularly, it is just as important to maintain our awareness of the threats online as it is walking down a dark alleyway on a Saturday night.
As in real life, our security online is our responsibility.
There is a real threat online and it does exist and people become victims all the time. The risk is not to do with becoming the victim of violence such as receiving cuts or stab wounds or being knocked out and then kicked repeatedly.
The risk is that we can be hit in our hip pockets. The online threats want our information, which leads to hitting us financially. If they do not want our information, they want to use our broadband and our processing power or our storage. And that costs money as well.
The threat online is different but still very real
A good reason to take the threat online seriously can be seen with the 'Honeynet Project'. An article by the Washington Post explains what the Honeynet Project is all about.
The project takes servers and computers "out-of-the-box" -- without any changes to improve or reduce their security -- and connects them to the Internet for the sole purpose of seeing how often they are probed and hacked, and what techniques attackers are using.
Based on the project's tests, the average unprotected Windows computer with the most common security holes will be hacked within 20 minutes. Even secured computers will be probed or scanned for known vulnerabilities dozens times each day.
Interesting stuff. It goes on...
Using automated software tools available online, a malicious hacker can set in motion a scan of more than a million computers before he goes to bed at night and have hundreds of systems under his thumb by morning, Spitzner said.
Many people feel that they would not be a target of online attacks but that is not true as well and is in fact ill informed. The article continues:
The reasons attackers would want to break into your machine are as varied as the methods for doing so. Computer criminals often use other peoples' PCs for storing files that would be incriminating if found on their own machines, such as child pornography or lists of stolen credit card numbers. More frequently, criminals hijack computers for financial gain or as a means of attacking others with impunity.
You do not need to be in possession of information of value. Attackers may want to use your computer for their own needs that do not even involve you personally.
The Washington Post article details 7 Top Cyber Tips for safe online computing. Briefly, these are listed below:
- Install and use a firewall
- Use anti-virus software and update virus definitions regularly
- Create secure, original passwords
- Update your computer with the latest vendor security patches
- Practise basic email and downloading "street smarts"
- Download and use anti-spyware software
- Periodically back up your data
The Most Dangerous Places on the Web
An excellent article at PCWorld highlights the 17 Most Dangerous Places on the Web. It graded the activities and places on the web on a scale from 'Green' being only slightly dangerous up to 'Red' where you will almost certainly get attacked. Some of the results were very interesting and surprising. The grading system used is from the Department of Homeland Security.
The 'Red' areas were as follows:
- Torrent sites and other file sharing sites
- Drive by downloads which download Malware automatically when a page loads
- Fake anti virus software that extorts money and credit card info - via email
The 'Green' areas were as follows:
- Geolocation on your Smartphone
- Sites that sell email addresses to Spam companies
- Oversharing personal information on social networks
The following image demonstrates how someone can become a victim of online attacks.
Click to view larger image
The following tips were provided:
- Keep up on patches
- Be password smart
- Use security software
- If it sounds too good to be true...
- Assume that everyone is out to get you
Some of these are starting to appear as common themes which is a good sign they are the most important areas to focus on.
Location, Location, Location
It seems that another significant risk factor when online is where you are online. In a recent study by AVG, it can clearly be seen that online attacks are more likely in certain areas. In an article about the study, it shows that the 4 highest risk countries for logging on are as follows:
Some of the safest countries in which to surf were Japan and Taiwan as well as numerous African nations where broadband use is low. As a continent, South America was the safest and North America was the riskiest.
For western countries, the following can be seen:
- The US was ranked as the 9th most riskiest place to go online with 1 in 48 computers attacked
- The UK was ranked at 30th with 1 in 63 attacked
- Australia was ranked at 36th with 1 in 75 attacked
- German web surfers were attacked 1 in 83 times
Wikipedia is also an excellent starting point for learning about the various areas of cyber security and the threats that are online. A detailed list of 400 such resources on Wikipedia can be found at the following Wikipedia entry:
Below is a list of resources for further reading and study for more in-depth information on the topic of Cyber Security and safe internet use:
- National Cyber Security Awareness Month Tip Sheets - These sheets include downloadable documents designed for use for parents and kids
- Free Security Check Ups - Check your computer for known viruses, spyware, and more and discover if your computer is vulnerable to cyber attacks
- Top 10 Cyber Security Tips for Families - This article is primarily geared for parents
- National Cyber Security Website - This is a very large site with many many articles and videos
- AVG's Ultimate Free Guides - This AVG page contains 7 PDFs for download for free about internet security topics
- Internet Tips Protect Your PC and Data with the Security Checklist - Another PCWorld article
- United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team - This is a US Government website which has links to 54 detailed Government articles with tips about various internet and cyber security topics
- 3 Easy Security Tips - An article by the Enigma Software Group
- Top 5 Common Mistakes - As above
The common theme throughout much of what is out there seems to go back to keeping your software up to date, install and use anti virus/malware software, install and use a firewall, use good passwords and surf responsibly.
Hopefully this article has gone a long way to increasing your awareness of the various types of cyber threats that are out there. There is a lot of information to absorb within the links presented here. It is a lot for one sitting.
It is recommended therefore that you bookmark this page or add it to your favourites so you can come back to it in the future and continue reading through it at your leisure.
If you find this article to be of value, please forward the link to your friends who may enjoy it whether they be martial artists, self defence practitioners or even just concerned parents or PC or Mac owners.