How to survive the cybercrime pandemic

Smart Cybersecurity Handbook 2022 Cyber Security

The pandemic forced everyone to spend more time online than they did before. This was out of necessity because of remote working and the need to buy services and products online. A global collective of highly sophisticated networks of criminals are aware of this larger, captive online audience and they have innovated and stepped up both the frequency and the complexity of their attacks.

As we marked cybersecurity awareness month in October, it is not completely outrageous to suggest that we are dealing with a cybercrime pandemic.

To deal with crime in the real world, we take all the precautions we need to, alongside developing situational awareness so that we don’t fall victim to crime. We put burglar bars on our windows and lock our doors. We also change our behaviour when we enter or exit doors or driveways. In other words, we cultivate a security-conscious mindset.

Now consider this: Every device you use and every website with which you interact, creates another door for cybercriminals to launch an attack. It’s not just you personally that is more at risk. From a business perspective, we used to be sure that everyone was connecting to the Internet from within the business premises – behind one door and surrounded by a security net. Even then, savvy criminals had begun crafting smart ways into our domain.

Now, with remote and hybrid working models being ubiquitous, there are hundreds, if not thousands of new doors, windows, air vents, crawl spaces and even chimneys that can grant unwanted access to criminals.

Digital inclusion and bridging the digital divide

At Cell C, a company that is transitioning from a telco to a ‘techco’, we believe in digital inclusion and bridging the digital divide. However, with this comes the responsibility of empowering users of the Internet to practice safe surfing and adopt a security-conscious mindset that will reduce their risk of falling victim to cybercriminals.

To be frank, criminals don’t care that millions of people have been hit hard by the pandemic and are struggling to make ends meet. They will use every advantage available and take everything you have given half the chance.

While there are lone wolves and opportunists, modern cybercriminals run advanced syndicates and have research and development teams, always pushing the boundaries of advancement to make their attacks more likely to succeed.

So, how do we fight back? Practice good digital hygiene. This means:

• Do not ever share your PINs or passwords.

• Make these PINs and passwords complicated and not easy to guess.

• Don’t click on links or visit websites that you do not recognise.

• Never hand out personal information.

• Install reputable antivirus and anti-malware software on all of your devices.

• Update your software regularly.

• Use multi-factor authentication.

• Back-up your computer regularly.

• Keep your hard drive clean.

• Don’t do personal or sensitive tasks while using open networks such as those at airports or malls.

• Consider device encryption, imagine leaving a sensitive memory stick at the local coffee shop?

Many of these may be seen as soft skills, but when you compare it to being similar to not sitting in a car in a driveway chatting to friends to minimise the risk of being hijacked, it makes sense.

Common scams and how to avoid them

Phishing: Here, the criminals direct you to a legitimate-looking website link to verify personal information and once they have stolen passwords and usernames, your computer or device has been opened to attacks. These are among the most common types of attacks and often the emails or messages you receive will look very similar to a company that you trust. They will attempt to lure you by claiming problems with your account or the need to accept a voucher, among other tactics.

How do we avoid falling victim to these scams? Never click on links received in emails, SMSes, WhatsApps, in Messenger, or anywhere else. No reputable company will ever ask for your personal details in this way. Never click on links. No matter how tempted you may feel.

Form-jacking: Many fake websites offer special deals for products you love. When you choose your product, you are directed to a fake payment page where all your payment details are stolen and you can guess what happens next.

How do we avoid falling for this scam? Analyse the URL very closely, look for an extra letter, one change in spelling, something small. The tell-tale sign will be a modified URL. Beyond that, only shop through reputable retailers and only use reputable payment gateways.

Call-centre (vishing) or support scams: Here, you will receive a call from someone claiming to work at your bank, cellphone operator, insurer and other similar entities. Invariably they will ask for payments or personal information. A reputable company will never ambush you in this way and ask for sensitive information.

Alternatively, you may get a pop-up on your screen saying your device is infected with a virus and you’re directed to ‘take action’. Never click on anything like this, if you have, change all your usernames and passwords immediately, update your antivirus and malware software and then get assistance from a reputable professional to help you run a scan and delete anything suspicious.

419 scams: We have all received an email saying we have won the lotto or have a deceased relative and there are millions waiting for us. It is too good to be true and on the other side of that email, SMS, message or WhatsApp is a scammer waiting to ask for an payment advance, or rather, to steal your money.

How do we avoid falling victim? Never respond to these types of messages.

Loan pre-approvals or scams offering credit relief: Especially during times such as these, people are desperate and may feel as though their prayers have been answered. Approach reputable relief companies or credit providers instead and don’t interact with unsolicited messages you receive. Often these companies will want an upfront payment and that would be the end of your money.

Unsolicited message or advertisement playing to your conscience: There have been reports from all over the world about scams related to Covid-19 that either try to solicit money, or use the pandemic or information related to it, to get you to click on a dangerous link. As with everything else, pay attention to the basics – never click on links you receive and never share any personal details online or over the phone.

The take-home message is this: the digital world is like the real world. There are good people and bad people. There is a lot we can do to minimise our risks of falling victim to the bad people and enjoying the wonderful benefits of being connected to a digital world.

African cybersecurity targets

31,5 million cyberthreats target users in South Africa.

The increase in cyberthreats recorded by Kaspersky in the first half of this year across South Africa amounted to 31,5 million. Comparatively, Kenya experienced a similar situation with 32,8 million cyberthreats recorded, while these numbers are almost double the number of attacks in Nigeria (16,7 million).

All three countries have also experienced an increase in the number of attacks compared to the previous year, which is indicative of how significant the danger has become to organisations and users in the connected world.

“Threats can be categorised as criminal (80% of attacks), targetted (19,9%) and advanced (0,01%). The advanced grouping is significantly more sophisticated and features increased investment from attack groups. Unfortunately, both criminal and targeted threat vectors learn from the advanced category to enhance their own attack techniques,” says Amin Hasbini, head of Research Centre, Global Research and Analysis Team, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Kaspersky.

Ransomware has also become a significant threat vector targeting users and organisations locally. And when looking at future predictions, Kaspersky notes that ransomware development will continue.

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