How safe are you? Protect yourself from online attacks

Jeff Harrelson, Manager of Broadband ServicesWe are warned daily about the risks of being “connected.”  Viruses, spyware, malware and other malicious threats are always being created to find a way into our PCs, phones and other devices.  Hackers use these and other tools to ruin our data, scam us or get access to our personal information.  According to a Pew Research Study released this week, Identity Theft is growing at an alarming rate.  This report indicates 18% of online adults in America have had personal information stolen, up from 11% in 2013.  And, in their “Security Threat Report 2014” network security company Sophos writes:  “Reflecting on the security and threat landscape of 2013, one trend that stands out is the growing ability of malware authors to camouflage their attacks.” 

Even when YOU are careful, retailers, online websites and others that handle your personal information can be attacked.  The HeartBleed bug is the latest to reach headlines.  By attacking commercial websites, your personal information could have been compromised. 

And, we have had some folks recently fall victim to a particularly vicious virus called Cryptolocker Ransomeware.  If this virus gets into your system, it encrypts all files on a PC and holds them ransom,   demanding payment to de-encrypt the files.  Although paying for the key to unlock the encryption does get the files unlocked, it isn’t cheap with required payments of between $100 and $300.

So what can we do to protect ourselves from these malicious attacks?

First and foremost, be aware.  Knowing what is out there is valuable to knowing how to avoid attack.  A great place to start is: .  You can also visit the website of your anti-virus software company and follow the news and trends reports.

Make sure you have a good anti-virus program and that it is kept up to date.  There are a lot of great companies providing software that can protect your devices.  But, the protection is only able to keep your data safe if it is kept up-to-date. 

Don’t open emails from someone you don’t know or click on links that you are not expecting.  Even if you may know the person who appears to have sent you a link, if something looks suspicious, don’t just click on it to find out what it is.  Things to look for include funny words, poor spelling, symbols that take the place of letters, subject matter that doesn’t fit the person supposedly sending the link, and other indications that it just doesn’t seem right.

NEVER give out your account or personal information, including passwords, without knowing to whom you are giving that information.   Many scammers use realistic sounding “problems” to instill a sense of alarm in you.  They then offer to help if you will “verify your account information.”  This request can come in an e-mail, online, or even by phone.  Simply put, if you did not seek help for a problem, be cautious of anyone who tells you there is a problem and then wants to help. 

Because many malware attacks affect your files, a good plan to keep your files backed up is wise.  And, just doing a file backup on the same machine may not be good enough.  Important files should be checked for malware before being backed up and then saved so they can be retrieved by another device if necessary.  Cloud based backup can be a good way to insure files are safe in the event of an attack.

Remember, the best protection is knowledge. 

Jeff Harrelson

Manager of Broadband Services

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