Cyber Security

Why is Cybersecurity Important?

Reading time: 4 minutes

Highlights:

  • Cybersecurity isn't just for businesses
  • You can lose money and time trying to unravel damage after identity theft or fraud
  • Staying cyber secure can help reduce your risk of identity theft and fraud

Cybersecurity isn’t something only businesses and governments should worry about. To a hacker or fraudster, you – or rather, your devices -- are a treasure trove of information. That information could include things birthdates, bank account numbers or passwords, which can be used for fraud or identity theft purposes.

But there are other risks as well: Obtaining email addresses or phone numbers from devices could enable a hacker to send messages aimed at getting someone to click on a link and install malware on a computer, for instance.

Let’s look at some of the cyber threats you could face, and why cybersecurity is important.

How cyber thieves get information

  • Hacking: Hacking is how fraudsters can gain access to computers. They may find weaknesses in security settings, for example, and exploit those weaknesses to get information.
  • Malware: Malware is any harmful program or file. There are different types of malware, including computer viruses and worms, spyware and adware. Malware can also include so-called Trojan horses, which are malicious programs embedded in or disguised as legitimate software. These can delete computer files and log computer users' keystrokes, among other things. Malware may be sent via email, text message or social media message, and the sender may appear to be someone you know – meaning that person's devices or computer may have been infected. It may say something like, “Hi John, you won’t believe this!” with a link or an attachment. If you receive an unexpected communication containing a link or attachment, even if it’s from someone you know, contact that person to verify the message's legitimacy before clicking on anything.
  • Identity Theft and Fraud: If certain information falls into the hands of identity thieves, they can use it to help themselves to a victim's money or open credit accounts in their name (which, of course, go unpaid). Good targets for identity thieves include names, addresses, dates of birth, mother’s maiden names, passport information, Social Insurance numbers, credit card or bank account numbers, and driver’s license numbers, among others.
  • Phishing and spoofing: Phishing and spoofing are similar to malware, as they use the same tactics – but instead of an email, text or social media message purporting to be from someone the victim knows, the message may appear to be from their bank, credit card company or financial institution (spoofing). The message may say there is a problem with the victim's account or there has been potential fraud and provide a link to sign in to the account. If the link is clicked on, it may lead to a legitimate-looking website, but when the victim logs in, they're handing their username, password or other information over to hackers – who can use it to hijack their account and possibly steal money.
  • WiFi eavesdropping: This involves “listening in” on information shared over an unsecure WiFi network. It can provide fraudsters access to logins and passwords, as well as to sensitive information, depending on which sites are accessed on the network.

The bottom line is that there are a number of online cyber threats, and becoming a victim of fraud or identity theft can lead to loss of money and time as the victim attempts to fix the damage cybercriminals can cause. Hackers and fraudsters are constantly searching for new ways to gain access to personal information. While it may seem impossible to stay ahead of them – or eliminate the cyber threats entirely -- the good news is that changing your cybersecurity habits may help reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

Reducing your cyber threat risk

Here are a few suggestions that may improve your basic cybersecurity practices:

  • Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. This involves an extra login step: for instance, you not only use a username and password to log in, but also enter a code sent via email or by text to your mobile phone.
  • Periodically review your privacy settings on your social media accounts. Set up login notifications so you’re notified if someone logs in from a new device (even if it's you!). Review what information you're publicly sharing. 
  • Use passcodes or biometrics (Face ID or Touch ID, for instance) to unlock your mobile device.
  • Don’t set your phone up to automatically connect to any available WiFi.
  • Don’t plug your phone’s USB cable into ports in public places, such as airports. Instead, plug your cable into a charger you own, which you can then plug into a power outlet. Some ports can be hacked or compromised.
  • Lock your laptop when you step away. Beware of “shoulder surfers” attempting to get a peek at your screen.
  • Ensure you have antivirus and security programs installed on your computer, and keep them up to date. Back up your computer hard drives periodically.
  • Beware of unsecure WiFi – and remember, just because a network requires a password doesn’t mean it’s secure. If you must use an unsecure network, don’t engage in any activities like online banking.
  • Don’t click on any links in email messages from unknown senders. If you receive an email that appears to be from your bank or other financial institution, don’t log in from the email; go directly to the company’s web site directly.

Read more about helping protect yourself from identity theft.

Get credit and ID monitoring today!

With Equifax CompleteTM Premier, we monitor your credit report and score to help you spot signs of fraud. And if your identity is stolen, we'll help you recover.