Strong Passwords, Robust Firewalls and More Expert Cybersecurity AdviceLast Edited:
VINELAND, N.J. — The business world shook in September when the global credit reporting agency Equifax announced that it had experienced one the largest cyber breaches ever with 143 million people having their information exposed to hackers.
Experts said hackers likely got access to customers' names, social security numbers, addresses, birthdates and even credit card information.
But computer experts want the public to know that individuals are just as at risk of having their information being hijacked through their desktop, laptop and smartphone, turning the device into a piggybank for would-be cyber thieves.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an annual campaign to educate the public and raise awareness about how important cyber security is in everyone's life.
"It's a real battlefield out there," said Andrew Arsenault, a Cumberland County software engineer. "Once you hear about something like [Equifax] on the news, it's way too late. Hackers have probably been (in those accounts) for months. They have a way of getting into these systems that leaves no tracks."
Arsenault has worked with local businesses helping them strengthen their cyber security tools. He said, though, individuals have their role to play and it often pretty simple, yet cumbersome for some.
"It's really the job of the software engineers to make sure everything is locked down tight," Arsenault said.
"Guys like me, we work hard on this end to keep everything updated, but end users get victimized because they don't update their system.
"A lot of people cancel out their updates because they don't want to deal with it. Updates happen for a reason because they are updating what was probably a major security flaw. To end users it's a hassle, but you really need to download every update."
Anthony Mongeluzo, president of PCS (pictured above), which has offices in Vineland, said don't think that hackers are always after the big score. While hackers glee at picking the pockets of media giants like HBO and Sony, they are just and willing to cyber-steal from mom-and-pop shops and private computers given half the chance.
"Cyber security is the most important part of any business structure today, regardless if it's a small business or large business," Mongeluzo said. "The biggest misconception that small businesses have is that they think its data is valuable to hackers, when actually very valuable."
National cyber security expert Bob Carr (pictured below), founder and former chief executive officer of Heartland Payment Systems, said that challenge for experts is that the crooks know what they are doing.
"Some of the smartest people in the world are spending day and night trying to figure out how to get money through cyber security," Carr said.
"The number of people involved in cyber has grown by huge amounts. It used to be a small band of criminals. People who are not diligent about cyber security will get more and more attention from the bad guys. They can drain your bank accounts and it's hard to get that back."
There are some practical – and easy – tips people can use to improve their cyber security. Arsenault, Mongeluzo and Carr all mentioned password security as something people can do protect themselves, yet it is the area where they constantly leave themselves vulnerable.
"One galactically stupid thing to do is not change your password, or have a password like 1234 or 'password,'" Carr said.
In 2015, hackers in Europe were able to take control of numerous nanny cams and private surveillance cameras in the United States because purchasers never bothered to change the default user names and passwords on the camera's software after purchasing.
Arsenault said banks, schools and other companies are making employees and users add both upper case and lower case lettering, along with numbers and special characters to their passwords to make them tougher to crack. Changing passwords every six month also is effective.
He said one trick that has always been reliable is for the user to type in a familiar phrase or a sentence as the password. Arnsenault said not only will the words to be easier to remember, but technically, the longer the password the more difficult it is for hackers to break.
"Some people will mix numbers and letter but pick six characters," Arsenault said. "They think that they've made it harder for the hacker but actually they've made it easier. A famous quote or sentence out of a book is the best password. Each character you add makes it exponentially that much more difficult for someone to hack it."
One galactically stupid thing to do is not change your password, or have a password like 1234 or 'password.'
Mongeluzo said users should make sure that they are behind a good firewall and go beyond the free anti-virus software to protect your computer.
"Trust me, the $30 investment annually will be well worth it," Mongeluzo said.
He said customers today should be weary of anyone sending unsolicited emails, particularly those with attachments. Mongeluzo stressed that users should even check the email addresses for trusted websites like PayPal, because hackers have gotten good at mimicking them, but the website links will usually give it away.
Mongeluzo said that if you're still curious about the email, opening the attachment with your smartphone rather than desktop or laptop because that device is easier to rehabilitate if you guess wrong.
Strong passwords and proper anti-virus protection are part of what Carr calls "cyber hygiene." He said while hackers are always on the move, doing those small things will help your computer stay clean and virus free.
The Department of Homeland Security warns that cyber criminals use sophisticated techniques to appear legitimate, posing as friends or family members on social media, banks, charities, mortgage vendors, and even health care and low-cost prescription providers to steal information in order to conduct identity theft, phishing schemes, credit card fraud.
Mongeluzo said simply calling establishments that appear suspicious would relief concerns, or uncover a potential scheme.
National Cyber Security Awareness Month is a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its public and private partners, including the National Cyber Security Alliance.
Homeland Security will focus on a different aspect of cyber security over the next five weeks. Those topics include:
- Week 1: October 2-6 – Theme: "Simple Steps to Online Safety"
- Week 2: October 9-13 – Theme: "Cybersecurity in the Workplace is Everyone's Business"
- Week 3: October 16-20 – Theme: "Today's Predictions for Tomorrow's Internet"
- Week 4: October 23-27 – Theme: "The Internet Wants YOU: Consider a Career in Cybersecurity"
- Week 5: October 30-31 – Theme: "Protecting Critical Infrastructure from Cyber Threats"
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