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Protect Yourself: October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Every second, 12 adults become a victim of cybercrime.

Oct 20, 2015

Data breaches haunt headlines. Villains slip undetected through ever-expanding virtual corridors. Identity thieves masquerade as you.  Adding to the fright factor of the 31 days punctuated by Halloween, October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. And it doesn’t take long to scare up a slew of spooky statistics on the prevalence of cybercrime. Every second, 12 adults become a victim of cybercrime, according to security firm Symantec. And 41 percent of online adults have sustained attacks such as malware, viruses, hacking, scams, fraud and theft.

Navigating the unknown and shifting realm of cyberspace can carry the ominous horror-movie sensation of traversing deep, dark woods at night: Should you download that mobile app that asks for a long list of permissions? Should you click the “confirm” button on that online transaction? And, in an increasingly online world, do you have much choice? It’s easy to feel powerless in the pursuit of cybersecurity — a struggle that stumps world superpowers and corporate giants alike.

Despite the fluidity and complexity of cyber networks, taking simple cautionary measures can go a long way to reduce your risk:

  • Don’t let your guard down. Connectivity is no longer limited to your personal computer: it’s your mobile phone, tablet, TV — even your internet-connected dishwasher. These are all potential entry points for cyberattacks. Yet nearly half (48 percent) of smartphone and tablet users don’t use passwords, have security software or back-up files, according to Symantec. The first step in protecting yourself online is to recognize areas that might leave you exposed, from the mobile phone at your fingertips to the so-called “cloud” that stores your photos and personal information.
  • Dust off the cobwebs. Ward off viruses and malware, and exorcise spyware by keeping antivirus software up-to-date. That’s why Zions Bank offers IBM® Security Trusteer Rapport™ for free. Most antivirus programs are designed to update automatically, but you can also make manual updates. Don’t forget to protect your phone as well, by installing mobile security software from a trusted source. Beware of scareware: pop-up ads that trick you into thinking your computer is infected and then paying to fix it.
  • Look over your shoulder. The simplest form of information theft is observation. Be conscious of who may be lurking near, especially when you’re viewing or punching in sensitive information.
  • Entomb mummified passwords. A password may be stolen without your knowledge, sold and then resold within a criminal network over a period of time. Resetting important passwords several times a year reduces the risk of them being cracked and used by criminals. A strong password includes numbers, letters and, preferably, symbols. Just as you would lock all the doors on your house, use passcodes on all network touchpoints, including mobile phones and home wireless networks.
  • Beware of zombies. In computer speak, a “zombie” is a compromised computer that is controlled from a remote location. Spammers use zombies for all kinds of malicious tasks, including masquerading as legitimate entities to obtain personal data. Never reveal passwords or financial information online unless you have initiated the contact. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially those from mysterious senders.
  • Keep skeletons out of your closet. Be careful what you reveal online. A rant about your employer on social media could come back to haunt you long after you’ve forgotten what the beef was about. Additionally, hackers can glean information from social media to answer security questions in the password reset tools as happened to U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays and addresses.
  • Fend off fiends. Forget garlic and sunlight, stop financial vampires from siphoning your accounts by monitoring them regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank or credit card company for when you make certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or a transaction of more than $500. Zions Bank offers mobile alerts that send text messages to you when suspicious activity occurs. Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com

Despite the shivers-inducing dangers of cybercrime, consider this: Americans spend $3 trillion each year safely and securely with their credit and debit cards, American Banker’s Association reports.  Moreover, banks and other members of the financial services industry are doing their part to stay on top of cybercrime, constantly advancing technology to safeguard against ever-changing threats. In 2013, banks stopped $13 billion in fraud attempts, according to the ABA. And when fraud does occur, banks typically shoulder the financial cost: closing compromised accounts, absorbing the losses, and reissuing cards. This fact should make online transactions a little less frightening.

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