In this little blog post we’ve tried to cover a large section of the dark side of the internet, hopefully explained in a way everyone can understand and without painting a too dangerous picture of the World Wide Web.
If you are a security expert you will probably not learn anything useful but you’ll get some new fun facts and an easy reading. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.
Evolution of Security Online
“I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.”
– Stephen Hawking
The First Virus
The first virus ever created was made by programmer Bob Thomas. The Creeper Virus was used on the predecessor to the internet ARPANET. This was only used by the U.S Department of Defense. In 1971 Bob Thomas designed and released the Creeper Virus to replicate itself into the ARPANET system and display the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!”.
This innocent little virus was the start of something much bigger in the years to come. Now viruses can be downloaded as small pranks for coworkers to high level security threats on government levels.
Yearly Attacks and Public Attention
Since the first virus was released we are now seeing a huge explosion in virus threats from around the world. Not only an explosion in size of incidents but also in the number of different viruses, spyware, malware and trojans being released.
The sad truth is unfortunately that people are not really paying enough attention to this and that trend is unfortunately continuing.
Below is an interactive graph from Google trends showing the search volume for each of these words.
Attacks are however getting more frequent and sophisticated and not being vigilant of these factors is unfortunately a grave danger when being online
The Pentagon alone receives 10.000.000 attacks per DAY!
The Cost of Cyber Attacks
Each year billions are lost due to lost productivity to downtime, destroyed work from attacks and security protection to keep companies and individuals secure.
One of the first major costs came from a single virus called ILOVEYOU which was created by two men from the Philippines. It’s estimated it inflicted a total loss from infected users between $4 billion and $10 billion.
That’s the equivalent of 7 million to 17.4 million tons of rice. That rice (assuming 500 gram a day) could feed 38.356.164 – 95.342.465 people for a year.
This is one of the prices we have to pay with the advancement of our online presence and the growing audience using it.
Unfortunately like these two men, the responsibility to wield this technology is non-existent for some.
With great power, comes great responsibility – Voltaire, 1832.
(Bet you thought it was Uncle Ben)
The battle between good and evil is raging and the cost is rising rapidly.
The US amongst several others has begun to issue long prison sentences to cyber criminals on equal terms as violent crimes and drug dealers due to the financial severity of these attacks.
Some of the dangers encountered online
Most people assume and imagine that all “evil” people online are hackers. In fact there is a huge difference between the types of people trying to take advantage of your online presence.
Another misconception is that all of these people are “bad”. If you have time a great article to read is the “Difference between a Good Hacker & Bad Hacker”. In this article we have chosen to be biased and focus on the negative aspects and terms only.
Here’s a short walkthrough of some of the terms used to describe these persons.
The premise of a hacker is to gain access or tamper with an unsecure/weak system or computer network.
The term hacker covers a lot of diverse aspects and is coined with descriptions such as White Hat, Black Hat, Grey Hat Elite Hacker, Blue Hat, Skiddie, Neophyte, Hacktivist and Nation State and probably other underground terms unknown to us mere mortals.
The differences in these are substantial. A White Hat is a term used for a computer security expert (the good guys). To learn more about the different types you can visit the Wikipedia page.
Scammers and Spammers
Swindlers and con artists have been around for a long time. With the invention of the internet their territory has rapidly expanded and allowed a previously unseen privacy protection.
This means that a fraud can take place thousands of miles away almost virtually untraceable.
The Winner Popups
This is a classic scam that baits the victim into clicking the ad. One then has to enter debit card and PIN for shipping costs. Of course these items never show up and the victims card is exploited.
The Nigerian Mails
A classic spam and scam mail which in layman terms is called “Nigerian 419 scams“. The victim is sent a mail telling them a large payoff is in store. The scammers then proceed to trick the victim into paying a fee (and sometimes these can be large amounts).
Stolen Identity Scams
This can be a very serious scam to be subjected to. When persons/companies are hacked they are at risk at being impersonated to trick people into donating/give access to sensitive information .The New York Times Style Magazine’s followers were subjected to this:
In case that spam wasn’t obvious enough — Yes, we were hacked! What a lousy way to thank our half million followers. Sorry everybody!
— T Magazine (@tmagazine) May 13 2009
While you were reading this you might have thought that you would never fall for this, and people who are too stupid to fall for this deserves this.
The sad truth is that it’s not always stupidity and greed but gullible and elderly people who fall for these schemes. They are relatively new to the online world and don’t know any better.
Because of all these threats it’s important to guard yourself against obvious threats and prepare your computer against possible attacks.
The first 3 steps to take to protect yourself
You don’t need a PhD in Computer Science to stay safe online. The road can be long but with these quick tips you are already ahead of 90% of all internet users. There are dozens other things you can do but start with these three and we’ll clap our security hands.
Secure your Browser
Imagine your browser as your car driving down the road in a Zombie Apocalyptic world (yes we watch The Walking Dead). You wouldn’t want that car to be missing the locking mechanism or the windows would you? Here are some easy fixes to secure your browser:
- Don’t automatically store your passwords
- Privacy/Security Settings set to High
- Clear browser cache now and then or disable cache altogether
And of course it goes almost without saying that you need to use your common sense online.
Update your Software Programs
Keeping all your programs updated makes it harder to compromise. Especially java has been taking a beating recently with A LOT of dangerous weaknesses being discovered.
We’ve created a free tool that automatically keeps your software updated. Grab your copy of OUTDATEfighter (shameless self-promotion)
Change all your Passwords
Most people use the same passwords for all their different accounts online. This is easy, convenient and dangerous. If just one of these places have a security breach, your password for your banking, e-mail and dozens of other sites will be in the hands of unsavory people.
Recent breaches include Twitter, Yahoo and Evernote. When it can happen to such big companies, no one can really be safe.
Now that you’ve done the basics, let’s go on and look at some tools that will help you in your quest for optimal safety.
Tools Recommended for Staying Safe
Despite all the dangers previously mentioned we can navigate the web thanks to the creators of different types of protection tools. Below you’ll find some of them, the list is short but very important.
Antivirus, Malware, Trojans and Spyware Program
A lot of people have thankfully installed antivirus but if you haven’t then do it now! Microsoft’s Security Essentials is a good start but unfortunately not a whole lot of people have any further protection software against Malware, Trojans and Spyware. Our own SPYWAREfighter takes excellent care of this. Try a 30-day free trial
What all these different programs do is a quite complicated process but you can simplify it a bit down and say that these programs have 3 main functions to protect you.
If you want a thorough walkthrough and a bit more technical explanation go here. Again we must emphasize that having this software installed should be mandatory
This is basically what it does:
For all squeamish readers we apologize
A firewall is basically a filter that regulates which traffic from your computer can go in and out. On a PC you will normally have Windows Firewall which comes with Windows and as standard is already active from installation. Make sure this is turned on.
Mac users can benefit greatly from Norton’s Mac Internet Security.
VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Surf the internet anonymously and encrypt all your internet activity from Big Brother or anyone else trying to find you. Sounds like a security dream right?
With VPN services like Hide My Ass you can mask your real IP and even decide which country you’d like your IP to come from.
Very simple and easy if you want that extra layer of security.
You can buy and use all the most sophisticated software in the world but if you don’t follow the most important rule it’s of little use.
The most important rule to stay safe online!
Use your common sense and think before you act!
Simple one should think, but still millions of people venture into unsafe territory online. Warez, Porn and Drugs apparently do strange things to our brain…
Stay safe out there!
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