How to stay safe online in 2018

As the world's dependence on technology escalates, so too do the twin threats of fraud and cybercrime. And Brits, in particular, seem to be affected, especially so by the latter.

A study released this week by cybersecurity firm Norton revealed that cybercrime – including phishing, ransomware, online fraud and hacking - accounted for over £130bn in losses for consumers in 2017; with Britain's share amounting to a staggering £4.6bn, and around 17 million of the victims hailing from these shores.

To put that into context, Britain accounts for less than 1 percent of the world's population, yet more than 2 percent of those who fell foul to cybercrime last year were British, while the figure of £4.6bn means that nearly 4 percent of total losses were from our pockets.

This study was publicised in the same week as some alarming comments from the UK’s National Cybersecurity Centre, who believe it is a case of 'when', rather than 'if', that the UK is hit by a major cyber-attack. In fact, they posit that we’ll be lucky to see out the decade without major disruption to things such as online infrastructure, big companies or an election.

Ignorance is not bliss

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why Brits seem to fare worse than the global average, it is becoming clear that attitudes, and an apparent indifference to protecting against such evils, are not helping the cause. Given that the Norton research found the overwhelming majority of cybercrime to come in the form of low-tech opportunism, such as coaxing passwords and sensitive information out of people, it is astonishing that a separate campaign (a so-called 'Too Smart to be Scammed' quiz, pioneered by the Take Five initiative) found that just 9 percent of the near-63,000 Brits surveyed could distinguish between fraudulent and genuine texts or emails. This despite nearly 80 percent of them originally claiming that they could easily do so beforehand.

Little wonder then that Cifas records revealed there were nearly 90,000 cases of identity theft reported in H1 of 2017 alone.

How can I stay safe?

While scaremongering shouldn't be the order of the day, the numbers clearly underscore the severity of these dangers, and it is imperative that, at an individual level, we do all we can to keep such criminals at arm's length.

We have offered useful tips in past blog posts, but here are some simple and effective ways to protect yourself online:

  1. Update your security and passwords: Having up-to-date anti-virus and malware protection is essential, but so too is updating your passwords regularly, especially when it comes to sensitive login details such as banking.
  2. Say no to phishing: Phishing usually comes in the form of fraudulent emails or texts masquerading as being sent from legitimate companies. Avoid opening any messages which look suspicious - or, if you have already, do not click on any links within.
  3. Mobile savviness: Many people wrongly associate online threats as being limited to desktop devices. But mobile phones are vulnerable to dodgy apps, and a constant flow of messages containing links. Tread carefully with clicks/taps, and only download official apps from official app stores. 
  4. Be vigilant with personal data: Banks and other such entities won’t ask for passwords or login details over the phone, so never provide these if you are asked. But it is critical to be cautious with any personal data you share. Identity thieves thrive on material such as your address, date of birth and contact details, so rather contact the company yourself directly if you have any doubts about the credibility of the source requesting the information.
  5. Word on the street: Fraudsters are becoming ever-more sophisticated, and the nature of these scams is never far away from the headlines. Keep yourself apprised of the latest threats and techniques being used, and make sure you know what to do if you were ever to be in the firing line.

As for the threat of cyber-attacks, ultimately there is some level of trust we place in the organisations we use to keep our data protected. But while it is their prerogative to ensure they have the technologies in place to keep your information safe, you can still limit the risk by keeping the circle of trust as small as possible – especially in light of the recent launch of Open Banking.

At a wider level, regulatory legislation such as GDPR will also make for a safer online world, and the onus on companies to keep fraudsters and hackers at bay will intensify. Yet it is clear that there are some of us in this country who are either underestimating the severity of fraud and cybercrime or simply not doing enough to protect ourselves. Make sure that you aren’t one of them.


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