Staying ahead
of cyber criminals

A rising number of criminals are active in the cyber world and their weapons are keyboards. Cyber criminals can steal a lot more than a common thief. They can steal data, money and even your identity. Here's some things to look out for when you’re online to protect you and your family.

According to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) Australians lost over $634 million to scammers in 2019, which represents 353,000 combined reports1. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) provides a lot of tips and information on how to protect yourself and your data from cyber criminals.

What to look out for
Scam emails and texts

These are the easiest way to catch you. Here’s some recent examples and how to pick it’s a scam:

The giveaways here are:

  • The urgency. It mentions a deadline to create a sense of urgency. It’s a trick to make you act before you have time to double check their lack of credentials and think clearly.
  • The website addresses are obviously fake. In the first text example, the address in the email ‘From’ line is ‘baloonline.com’, so unless the government has gone into party supplies, it’s a fake. The text message on the right also has a typo in it: ‘txreturn’.
  • It provides a link. Real companies and governments avoid providing direct links in communications. (It might look credible, but it’s easy to use fake links that hide the real address, and to mock-up realistic looking websites.)
  • Bad grammar or wordy terms. Overseas criminals use online translators to create their messages. For instance in the example of the left, what are ‘safetyline symptoms’? What’s a ‘geographical area’? (You live in a suburb, city or town, don’t you?)
  • Never, ever go to a site through a direct link asking for your personal details.

How to protect yourself

Avoid clicking on links in emails and text messages. Major banks and Government departments don’t usually include a link in an email that involves using your logon information. If you want to check if this might be true, log into your account through a link on their website instead.

Check the sender’s details. 
While it might look like it’s from your service provider, if you look at the actual email address it’s from, you often find it’s not quite right.

Avoid easy to guess passwords. Have you ever taken those pop quizzes asking you what your pet’s name is? Where you were born, your birth date, or your mother’s maiden name? These are all popular triggers for passwords we use, and scammers use them as well. Don’t feed the scammers your private information.
 
Use two-factor identification when possible. This is jargon for ‘two passwords’. It gives your accounts another level of protection. Many smartphones are using fingerprint ID and facial recognition, but these are also corruptible. (Do you realise your phone is covered with your fingerprints?)

Use a password manager.  We all have dozens, if not hundreds, of passwords to remember these days. Making passwords unique and updating them regularly is not really practical advice. The best approach is to protect them in an app that protects you. There are free apps available, with premium versions which charge a fee. The main ones recommended amongst the computer writers are: KeePass, LastPass, Bitwarden, MyKi and Keeper.

Back-up your personal data and files. Whether you use a cloud account, USB stick or external hard drive having copies of your important files will foil scammers who block your access to your files and demand money to unlock them. Back-up your files and store them somewhere safe, and offsite if possible.

Update software. Keep your software up-to-date, especially your system’s anti-virus software. They all keep up with the latest malware and ways to detect and remove them.

Use VPN or WiFi you trust. If you’re working from home, you’re probably using a VPN. If you’re on a WiFi network, make sure it’s password protected. Networks are an easy way for a hacker to mine your phone or computer for your personal information.

We now carry our lives in our smartphones and computers. We need to be even more vigilant in protecting them.


1 scamwatch.gov.au/news-alerts/scams-cost-australians-over-630-million