You have probably seen a title like this or something similar to it in, well, probably, a lot of emails in your inbox. Most email services have integrated junk mail folders to handle the massive volume Americans receive every day. Have you ever wondered why scammers waste their time when readers like you and me just ignore them? They utilize something called the “law of large numbers.” This means that even though a majority percentage of a population may not perform an action, like falling for an email scam, eventually a small percentage will. Authors of the suspicious emails we receive are relying on the prospect that if they send out enough emails, that someone will sooner or later click on that link or respond to the email.
Heck, even someone like me, who has made cybersecurity his passion, is still sometimes a little curious about clicking on that firm’s “guaranteed top-secret information.exe” attachment. Those scummy phishing emails are getting quite compelling. My point is that even though the majority of the population may not fall for what appears to be an obvious attempt at deception, a vulnerable few do and accidents can happen. It’s becoming big money for the bad guys and all it takes is one mistake.
What can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones? Maybe you have a friend or family member who has fallen victim to a scam or maybe you’ve heard one of the countless stories in the news. Put very simply, if you see an email that you did not expect and it urges you to click on a link or download an attachment, don’t do it. It can compromise your computer in seconds by running computer code in the background. Prevention is the best protection. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. If you do click on the link, or happen to get scammed in some other way,
1. Get educated. Being aware of potential scams and how they may occur is key to preventing them. Have a conversation with your friends or family about some of the potential scam methods to help them decrease their chances of becoming a victim.
2. Get help as fast as possible. Credit card companies and financial institutions are not strangers to dealing with situations like this. They can often reverse or stop many financial mistakes and afford customers many protections. Use them if you are able.
3. Keep your systems updated. Oftentimes hackers rely on the victim’s system being vulnerable to exploits. Operating systems and anti-virus/malware programs should be updated regularly.
4. Keep backups of important documents. Ransomware is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world. Make sure that you have adequate backups for important documents, photos and videos. Those backups should not be connected to the rest of your network. Adequate backups may help you from needing to choose between your life savings or recovering irreplaceable or sensitive data.
People are often considered the most vulnerable part of any cyber defense system. Following the above tips is a good start, but please do not consider this an exhaustive list. Also remember scammers attempt to exploit our natural responses to sympathy, fear, curiosity and authority. Be a little skeptical of emails, phone calls or text messages sent from someone you do not know. Especially when dealing with your private information. Good luck and stay safe out there.
Colton Robinson am a professional in training currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration at Idaho State University with an emphasis in cybersecurity as a member of the National Information Assurance Training and Education Center program. He is a Scholarship for Service recipient who, after graduation, will serve his country and community as a member of the federal cybersecurity workforce. He enjoys reading and playing chess in his free time.