How to stay safe from cyber crime 

Never presume that your personal information is safe online. Data breaches happen on an almost daily basis, exposing our email addresses, passwords, credit card numbers, social security numbers and other highly sensitive data. Millions of security breaches affect companies every year, with a serious impact on the privacy of their users.

Most people do not understand the severity of the problem until it personally affects them, either through identity theft or another form of malicious activity. But short of not using the internet to buy anything – and leaving social media – what can we realistically do to prevent this? The answer isn’t complicated, but it does take some dedication, and a few changes to bad IT habits.


The problem with cyber crime

Despite technology improving and more safeguards being put in place, the rate of identity related crimes is only increasing. A recent study claims that there is a new victim of identity theft every 1-2 seconds. Part of this is down to the willingness with which we part with our data, particularly sensitive information like our bank details.

Paying for things online is highly convenient. Whether you’re booking a ticket to a festival, ordering a takeaway pizza or just settling your electricity bill, many of us buy things and do our banking online almost every day. But entering your payment details online doesn’t come without risks, both in terms of where you use them and how you do it.

If a site where you entered your payment details was to be targeted by a breach, your details could become exposed to cyber criminals, and even be sold on the dark web. If the device you use to connect to the internet isn’t secure, meanwhile – or you’re using an unsecured public wifi network, such as at a cafe – your card details could be intercepted or stolen.

This is just the financial aspect of cyber crime. What’s more insidious is the prospect of data theft or data harvesting. All of the apps and websites you use may be collecting vast swathes of data about you, while certain sites may hold sensitive data other than what you use for payments, such as your age, date of birth, gender, or sexual orientation. All of this could be pieced together into a complete picture, and used to commit identity fraud.


GDPR and data protection

You may be aware of the General Data Protection Regulation, commonly shortened to GDPR. GDPR was a measure introduced into EU law (and retained by the UK) with the aim of making data collection and storage more transparent. In theory, users of online services would have to give explicit permission for every kind of data that was captured and stored by that service, and data could only be retained if there was a legitimate reason to do so.

While this has limited some of the most cavalier approaches to data collection, it hasn’t solved every issue. Unfortunately, the lack of active enforcement of GDPR means that many sites still get away with skirting the bounds of the law, or ignoring it entirely. Oftentimes, the pop-up that asks you to consent to data collection has every box pre-ticked, which is against the law. Others make it deliberately difficult for you to opt out, having to scroll through dozens of boxes to select each kind of data you want to permit.

GDPR is a positive for preventing cyber crime on paper, because it means you are transmitting less personal data, and companies are allowed to store less of it, avoiding major damage from security breaches. But the implementation at present is such that it can actually dissuade people from using this protection. The frustration of having to tick boxes or toggle buttons to decide which data is collected can make people reflexively select ‘allow all’ options, freely giving away even more data than they might have previously.


How to protect yourself from cyber crime

So, how can you stop a cyber-criminal from going on an online shopping spree, or limit the damage from data leaks? Here are a couple of simple steps you can take to stay safe when entering your personal data online:

  • Only enter your card details on sites you know are legitimate.
  • Delete accounts on websites you no longer use or intend to use, or request that they delete data that is no longer needed. Most websites will now have a GDPR or similar data protection policy that lays out your rights and how you can do this.
  • Unless you are certain about the URL of a website, access it through a search engine or official marketing materials, rather than typing it in directly. Scammers will often purchase domains with small typos that imitate the original in order to steal your details.
  • Check your connection is secure by ensuring that the URL bar starts with HTTPS instead of HTTP.
  • Uncheck the ‘save your card details for next time’ button unless you actually use the service regularly.
  • Always ensure that your device’s operating system and antivirus software are up-to-date with the latest security patches.
  • Change your social media profile settings so that only close acquaintances can see sensitive information.
  • Consider removing any unnecessary information from those profiles that could be used to imitate you or guess your passwords.

Sota offers an extensive range of Managed Cyber Security solutions, helping to protect individuals and businesses from data breaches.

Our managed cyber security services provide a complete security solution to counter the threat, and reduce the risk of these types of attacks. To learn more about our services, get in touch with a member of our expert team today.

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