It’s a bad, scary world out there. Practice good cyber security to keep you and your identity safe.

That email from Nigeria demanding a wire transfer in exchange for an inheritance is a blatant cyber threat and should be ignored. But today’s cyber threats are much more sophisticated and aren’t quite so obvious.  

With each passing day, fraudsters think up new ways to get at your private information, which is why you need to stay one step ahead. Each time you go online there is the potential for exposing yourself to bad actors, and the possibility that you’ll fall victim to identity theft. With sensitive personal information, fraudsters could open accounts, get your money, even get medical treatment in your name.

What’s unique about cyber attacks is that you may not even be aware that you are a victim as a until much later. Unlike a physical attack, there usually aren’t signs that one has occurred—until you’re blocked from getting credit or have your bank account drained.

To be sure, identity theft, which is most commonly carried out in the aftermath of a cyber attack, is on the rise. In 2017, there were 16.7 million victims, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. That was a record and followed on the heels of a record year.

Take steps to keep yourself and your data safe by being aware of some of the most common types of cyber attacks.


Phishing is the most common cyber threat and for good reason. It’s so easy to do. Here’s how it works: A cyber thief sends a fake email to trick the recipient into thinking that it comes from a trusted entity. For example, you might get an email that looks like it’s from your bank telling you a about a problem with your account. To clear it up, the email directs you to click on a link that then asks for your account number and password.

But the email is not from your bank or any other company you do business with. It’s from a bad actor, aiming to trick you into clicking on their site and entering your private information. Worse, clicking the link could install a piece of malware on your computer, allowing thieves to lurk in the background, soaking up all your personal information.

According to a study conducted by telecom giant Verizon, phishing emails are opened 31% of the time and 12% of links are opened. Even more worrisome: 1 in 131 emails sent has a malware attachment.

If you suspect a phishing email, you should:

  • Ignore it: The act of opening the email alone could compromise your personally identifiable information.
  • Delete it: This way you won’t forget and be tempted to open it in the future.
  • Don’t click: Never use a link inside an email. If you think an email came from your bank, for example, go to your bank’s site, log in and check to see if you have any messages that require your attention.

Data Breach

These attacks are directed at a business, not you, but they put your personal information in jeopardy. What’s more, they’re becoming more frequent. In the last few years alone, such blue-chip businesses as Target, Neiman Marcus, JP Morgan, Home Depot, eBay and Equifax have found themselves the target of data breaches.

They can happen in multiple ways, from thieves skimming credit card numbers from the parking lot of a store to hacking into the systems of the companies from a remote location and soaking up the information inside.

You may not be able to prevent a data breach on your own, but take these steps to keep yourself safe.

  • Use a credit card: While you have fraud protection on both a credit and debit cards, you could be liable for up to $500 if your debit card or number is stolen.
  • Freeze your credit: This prevents new credit from being opened with your Social Security number and name.
  • Be vigilant: Monitor your credit after you learn about a data breach. One in three people who are victims of a data breach experience identify theft.
  • Change your passwords: There are so many passwords and it’s hard to remember them all. No wonder people double, triple and quadruple up on passwords. But if one of your accounts is hacked, then thieves may have access to your other accounts. Change your passwords frequently and make sure they’re strong.

Home Devices

These days, unless an appliance or gadget is “smart” it’s hardly worth paying attention to. Who wants a refrigerator that “just” keeps food cold and makes ice? Consumers now want a refrigerator to tell them if they’re low on milk or if that container of yogurt is approaching its expiration date.

This is part of an innovation known as the Internet of Things, or IoT, which connects every day objects to the Internet to give them greater capabilities and provide their owners with more convenience. But smart appliances can be yet another entry point for thieves. The security protocols on appliances and devices aren’t as strong as say a bank’s or an online trading platform’s. Once hackers are in your network, they can have free reign to access your personal data.

These devises could be the next frontier in cyber security because experts predict that by 2021, there could be as many as 25 million connected devices.

Protect yourself.

  • Change default user names and passwords: Most devices come with manufacturer-issue user name and passwords. Hackers can easily find these on online forums. Make sure your password is strong and secure.
  • Secure your wifi network: Don’t rely on the outdated and weak Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol. Opt for the more secure Wi-Fi Protected Access II (WPA2).
  • Build a (fire) wall: You can purchase a stand-alone firewall or use one that comes with your router.

Create a separate network: You can create a separate network for your smart devices and another network for everything else. This way if your devices are hacked, thieves won’t be able to access important data elsewhere.