A month after the cyber attack, the city of Antwerp is still feeling the consequences of that hack. The municipality has not been able to issue parking fines for a month, and various digital services do not work.
Cybercrime is on the rise. Between 2012 and 2021, the number of cybercrimes has almost tripled, according to figures from the Federal Police. In the first six months of 2022, 50,087 cybercrimes were counted. If this trend continues, the federal police will record more than 100,000 cybercrime incidents for the first time last year.
Payment card fraud (6,078 offences) and phishing (4,505), where criminals try to get your login details, credit card details, PINs or other personal data using fake messages and fake websites, are particularly common. But hacking (2,626) also happens with clockwork regularity.
1. Don’t think: I’m not interesting
Many people mistakenly assume that they shouldn’t worry too much about all the fuss surrounding cyber security because ‘there’s no choice anyway’. It’s not true. Every internet surfer and every business is of interest to digital criminals. Your personal information can be sold to other criminals, can be used for identity theft, or can be used to perfect phishing attacks. A ransomware attack, where all IT systems are blocked until the victim pays, is also often a disaster for small, locally operating businesses.
And there are even more reasons why a hacker might be interested in your PC. He can use it to mine cryptocurrency on your machine without you knowing. Or he can unknowingly make your PC part of a botnet, a network of hundreds or even thousands of infected computers that send spam emails or can carry out DDoS attacks that destroy Internet sites.
2. It’s about more than just your computer
Almost any device on your network can be used as a gateway to other devices. So there’s no point shutting down your PC while you’re just connecting smart surveillance cameras, smart doorbells, smart weather stations or smart thermostats to your network. There are already more devices online than there are people in the world, so hackers are very interested in that.
The router that controls all the traffic on your network is also a popular gateway for hackers. An important rule of thumb to prevent misuse is to change the default password for all these devices as soon as possible. Often the password is not much more than ‘0000’ or ‘admin’. Change it as soon as possible to a password that is impossible or much harder to crack.
3. ‘Password’ is not a password
The security company Nordpass recently researched this: despite all the warnings, ‘password’ is still the absolute most used digital password worldwide. Also ‘123456’ and ‘Azerty’ are difficult to eradicate. Using these kinds of passwords is like opening the door to your account wide open.
Using your dog’s name, your hometown or your date of birth is also not a good idea. Often, such passwords can be easily retrieved by browsing your social media. A good password consists of at least twelve characters and contains both uppercase and lowercase letters and special characters (!, %, @, #…), for example ‘Kiw8!ZE?0àsv’.
A good password consists of at least 12 characters, and contains both lower and upper case letters and special characters.
Most surfers have dozens of accounts, and then it is impossible to remember all the difficult passwords. One solution is to use a password manager, software that keeps track of all your passwords and automatically fills them in at the right time. Familiar names include Lastpass, Keepass, 1Password, Dashlane and Nordpass.
4. Don’t just click on a link
Cybercriminals love it when they have little effort to steal your personal information. For example, because you enter them yourself on a fake website of your bank, your insurance company or a courier service. It is the infamous phishing technique. Criminals have become so good at it that it is almost impossible to distinguish it from the real website.
So be extra careful when websites, emails or text messages ask you to enter passwords or online banking information. A real bank will never do that. Please check the website name in the address bar at the top of your web browser. A domain name similar to the name of a legitimate sender is often used, for example the fake www.kbc-touch.be instead of www.kbc.be. Phishing is not only used to extort money from people. Emails can also be used to smuggle viruses and other malware onto your computer.
5. Don’t just install any piece of software
Just as you shouldn’t click on a random link, it’s not a good idea to install any piece of software you come across. Even programs that look perfectly normal on the surface and seem to be doing their job can do strange things behind the scenes. Fortunately, both Windows and Apple’s Mac OS come with built-in security measures to stop viruses, malware, Trojan horses and other digital scum.
Do you still need a special antivirus program? If you surf the Internet very carefully, only visit legitimate sites and webshops and do not click from one link to another, chances are that the built-in security software will protect you adequately. Especially on older and less powerful computers, antivirus software can have a negative impact on performance. But if you want optimal peace of mind, you should definitely consider investing in good protection software. Some familiar names are Avast, Bitdefender, AVG, G-Data and Norton.
6. Don’t just install any piece of software (bis)
What applies to PCs also applies to smartphones and tablets. We’ve been using these devices for over a decade, yet cybercriminals still manage to place malicious apps in Apple’s and (especially) Google’s download stores. Both giants have safeguards in place to prevent such incidents, but they are not foolproof. The problem is even more relevant if you download software outside of the two official stores, for example from shady Chinese download sites. This is a breeze, especially with Android phones, but you better stay away from it. The chance that your smartphone is loaded with malicious software is not imaginary.
It’s also a good idea to check the ‘permissions’ of the software you’re installing. If a game asks for permission to access your location, your microphone, your photo library, or your browsing history, you better be wary.
7. Update your machine regularly
There is a constant game of cat and mouse going on in the world of cyber security. Hackers are constantly looking for new ways to penetrate systems, while IT companies do everything they can to avoid it. As soon as new vulnerabilities are found in programs, software vendors try to release updates as soon as possible to close these holes.
But that system only works if the end users – meaning you – also make an effort to install those updates. Check regularly on all your devices for new updates or software versions and get them immediately. If your software suggests doing it automatically, feel free to check it.