Cybersecurity: Things to know to keep safe from cybercrime

Photo created by Jacob Kirby

Society is in a digital age with most important information being held on computers and mobile devices. But with the convenience comes a problem; the threat of being hacked.

Yousif Thamir is a first-year student in the Game Development program at Durham College. Two years ago, his email was hacked.

“I was just on Facebook derping around and I get a call from my dad. Apparently, I had been sending emails with links out to everyone,” Thamir said. “I checked it and the link was malicious and it was sent to everyone in my contacts. I ended up making a second account, shutting down the first one and apologizing to everyone.”

Getting hacked is something many say will never happen to them, until it does. However, getting hacked goes far beyond just an odd post on social media the user is unaware of.

With so much important information, such as access to bank accounts, stored digitally and something as simple as a birthday used as a password, it’s a scary thing to think about.

And it’s not just the stereotypical method of hacking, with a person sitting behind a computer furiously typing away. It can be done through email chains. An example would be someone claiming to have a business proposition and asking for an investment.

A global study done in 2012 ranked Canada third in the world in number of victims of cybercrime. Canada as also ranked 10th for hosting malicious websites with approximately 750,000.

Cyber-crime does pay. According to Norton, an anti-virus software company, cybercrime has a net worth of $1.4 billion in Canada alone. McMaster University also did a study in 2008 and found that identity theft costs Canadian consumers $150 million.

“There has always been cons, all through the history of humanity,” said Michael Cameron, a professor for the school of Business, IT & Management at Durham College. “The game hasn’t changed but the tools are different.”

Hacks can also be done through real world encounters, with devices called skimmers. These devices are often hidden in ATMs will read credit cards or debit cards when the machine is used. After the card is read, the hacker has all the information they need to get into bank accounts.

Gas station tend to be the most likely place to find an ATM with a skimmer in it, according to Cameron.

However, he said a lot of people aren’t careful with their account to begin with, using very simple passwords like a birthday or other personal information posted on social media, meaning a lot of hacks can be due to the victim’s own error.

Cameron said victims are usually seniors or people who are unaware.

“Do you know the easiest way to get someone’s password?” Cameron asked. “Ask them.”

Social media also plays a much bigger role. He said people should be careful what they post.

“People do very silly things on social media,” said Cameron. “Forget breaking your account. People post on Facebook ‘going on vacation this weekend, be gone for seven days.’ Great, now I’m going to go through your social account and find out where you live. I’m gonna rob your house when your gone because I know you’re not home.”

Hacks also don’t just happen to a single person. Large companies can fall victim as well. In 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) was hacked. The data of 77 million users was stolen and the service experienced a blackout lasting 23 days.

However, there are steps to take to protect against cybercrime, such as installing an anti-virus program on both your phone and laptop, changing your passwords frequently, and taking advantage of two-factor authentication, a method of protection used by Google. Enabling two-factor authentication, allows Google to send a code to your phone whenever you log into your account on a new device. And of course, it’s important to stay away from malicious looking websites.

Some students are already taking steps to protect themselves from online threats.

“I don’t go on stupid websites, I got a virus protector,” said Michael Setnyk, a computer science student.”

Making back-ups of important files is also recommended as well as keeping those files on a separate device.

As for Thamir, he started using these methods to protect himself from getting hacked again.

“I learned to cycle different passwords every little while,” he said. “I don’t like connecting everything, so my email is just my email. I never connect it to Facebook, I never connect it to my gaming account on Steam.”

And since Thamir got hacked two years ago? He hasn’t had any trouble since.