What Chance Do I Have in This Digital World?

Computer hackers have made major strides in attacking computer systems worldwide, adding a new level of threat that crosses over from the digital world to the real world. The once-imaged Hollywood storyline of computer hackers forcing machines and systems to commit acts of physical damage is now real.

Groups of hackers with names like Predatory Sparrow have made headlines worldwide. They hacked steel factories in Germany and Iran, causing one to shut down entirely and multiple fires within the other. In July 2021, Israel reported that Iranian hackers attempted to take over water flow and wastewater treatment for two rural districts and tried to alter chemical levels in the water.

Cyberterrorism is moving beyond a mere disruption of services into physical damage that could put lives in danger.

Meanwhile, all the usual online threats continue at an increased pace. Malware—software designed to take over or damage a computer system remotely—is on the rise and getting more sophisticated. With names like Mirai botnet, VPNfilter, ZuoRAT, CBeacon, and GoBeacon, malware can enter through routers, computers, gaming systems, cellphones, and other internet-based devices. And once they’re in, they can cause a loss of files, identity theft, and exposure of personal, medical, and financial information.

According to Cyber Risk Analytics (CRA), the United States alone saw a 10% increase in data breaches this past year, and worldwide, more than 22 billion records were exposed by hackers (CRA 2021 Year End Data Breach QuickView Report).

It is easy to look at all of this and wonder, “What chance do I have? If governments and major factories can be hacked and controlled remotely, what chance does my Dell laptop have?”

The good news is that you can take steps to minimize your exposure to hackers in this digital world. The U.S. government has some great tools and advice available on its ready.gov website to help reduce the possibility of a cyberattack. Here are a few of their tips:

  1. Use double authentication.
  2. Limit the personal information you share online.
  3. Change privacy settings and disable location features.
  4. Keep software applications and operating systems up to date.
  5. Create strong passwords.
  6. Watch for suspicious activity that sounds too good to be true.
  7. When in doubt, do NOT click.
  8. Check your account statements and credit reports regularly.
  9. Be cautious about sharing personal financial information, such as your bank account number, Social Security number, and credit card number.
  10. Use antivirus and anti-malware solutions and firewalls to block threats.

The ready.gov website has several other recommendations that should be reviewed, and even contains advice on how to respond if you become the victim of a cyberattack.

While the effort may seem overwhelming given the number of hackers trying to pry away personal information, these few commonsense tips can help minimize the chance of a successful cyberattack.

Now more than ever, it is critical to take precautions to protect your personal, medical, and financial information online. As always, for our clients, please talk with your advisor if you have any concerns about your online information. We are here to help.

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Clint Patty, J.D.

As Managing Partner, Clint serves on the management team providing leadership, supporting business development efforts and providing client consultation.