Cyber Threats

New Year, New Cyber-Threats: What to Look Out for Online

An epidemic of cybercrime is continuing across the world, and although multiple software companies have fought to stem the rising tide of malware, the problem shows no sign of slowing down.

“Computer security is now a national priority.” said Janice Rohn, a specialist professor and the coordinator of the University’s Information Technology program. As the program’s head, Rohn is well aware of the gravity of the situation that faces many around the world- including the University’s student body. It is a situation that is so intense that the US Department of Homeland Security has created its own plan to deal with cyber-threats.

Known as the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, it is an important component of the larger National Strategy for Homeland Security. The plan is meant to deal with large scale cyber-warfare, but one can easily discern that if even the United States Government is vulnerable, then so are all of us.

Americans will likely not have to worry about being hacked by any country or rogue group. However, that doesn’t mean that criminals are not after identity or money. Kim Komando, a popular talk show host who focuses on consumer technology, listed on her blog five common scams that many people will surely fall for in 2016.

The first one that she includes the use of fake emails from companies such as Amazon which notify you that there are problems with a package delivery. In order to get more information, you are asked for personal information. One might assume this to be an easy one to figure out- after all, if you don’t have a package coming then something’s obviously afoot. But email scams are not always so easy to discern.

“Honestly, the situation is pretty bad.” said  Jeremy Postelnek, a junior computer science student. “People should be more wary about what they do online, especially when it comes to emails. If it looks suspicious, you just shouldn’t click on it.”

Unfortunately, many are not to knowledgeable. According to Komando, more than 594 million people were victims of online cybercrime in 2015. In addition to scam emails, they are lured in by fake ads for offers way too good to be true, text-phishing, fake refunds, and even misspelled websites which ask for private information while appearing legitimate.

“All of these have something in common,” said Rohn. “They all involve people who are after your personal information by pretending to be someone they aren’t. The best way to protect yourself against things like this are to be absolutely sure of who you are dealing with.” She suggests that before clicking any link, you look at your last bill to find the company’s address, and then call them for further clarification.

Tips like these are among the many that she gives to students in two of her introductory level courses, IT-100 and IT-102. And even at the very beginning of the semester many of them are becoming more knowledgeable about the untamed wilderness that is the web.

One of her students is Kaitlyn McClintock, a freshman who already knows the potential dangers that could befall the unwary. “People our age often share passwords- and as a result others can get in and steal your files, “she says. “Many people also tend to use similar passwords.”

Her words point to another potential problem, one that is often glossed over: password weakness.

On Jan. 20, SplashData, a popular provider of security applications, released its’ annual “Most Common Passwords of the Year” list.  The most common ones used included “123456”, which was the most common, followed by “password”, and “12345”. Some passwords are simple variations of “12345”, while others are commonly used English words, such as “football”, “princess” and “dragon”.  All are quite easy to breach if a hacker has the necessary tools.

Although the digital age has brought with it a menagerie of new threats, none are impossible to avoid. Rohn and the rest of the Computer Science department advocate increased technological literacy as one’s best weapon.

If you know how hackers and cybercriminals operate, it becomes that much easier to avoid them. But at the same time knowledge is half the battle- the other half is vigilance.

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