The Digital Era is here, and with it, comes a lot of pros and a lot of cons. Advances in technology continue to improve the quality of life for humans. The world is more connected now than ever before. The digital square is now the public square.
Everything is online now, including your sensitive information.
Advances in technology don’t just benefit the average consumer. They also benefit the scammers and cybercriminals looking to prey on unsuspecting Internet users. We’re not talking about an email from a Nigerian prince, we’re talking about hacks on your system with the intention of pilfering any and all sensitive data possible. You could have your life ruined in an instant and never see it coming.
Not only that, but older people are at much higher risk of falling victim to cyber attacks than younger people. Older folks didn’t grow up in the Digital Era like the younger generations. A lot of them can’t even access the Internet and use their email without calling on assistance from their grandchildren. Simply put, they’re out of touch in an era that’s leaving them behind. This is an oversight that no one, young or old, can afford anymore.
This might sound a bit sensationalist, but the threat of cyber attacks is very real. And we will prove that shortly. Contrary to what you might believe, these big tech companies aren’t allies in this fight. In fact, they’re your enemies too.
But don’t worry! You don’t need to be extremely computer savvy in the Digital Era to keep yourself safe online. You mostly just need to remember three words: Virtual Private Network. Virtual Private Networks have gone from being a recommendation to being a requirement for Internet use. If you browse the Internet in 2019 without a VPN, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
We’ll delve into VPNs a bit later, but first, let’s talk about all these cyber attacks statistics, some of the biggest cyber hits in recent years, and why you need to step you cyber literacy game.
It’s time to get serious about your cyber security. Here’s why:
95% of cyber attacks are the result of human error.
You don’t think cyber attacks are that serious a threat? You might be singing a different tune when we tell you that nearly 100% of cyber attacks are the result of human error.
If you don’t know much about cyber attacks or how to keep yourself safe from them, you’re probably going to become the victim of one.
Small businesses, in particular, are a pretty big target demographic for hackers. According to a 2018 study by Juniper Research, small businesses on average spend a meager $500 on their cybersecurity.
Around 70% of businesses were the victims of at least one cyber attack last year, and 60% of small businesses go under within six months of suffering from a cyber attack. A lot of small businesses are people just managing to get by. They might not have the biggest budget for cybersecurity, but they also can’t afford to forgo upping their protection. They’re stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Moving forward, small businesses are going to need to take cybersecurity into account from the get-go, and not leave themselves without any lifeline months or years into their businesses’ life.
The 2017 Equifax Data Breach
Back in 2017, the credit reporting agency Equifax were the victims of a huge data breach. Said breach compromised the personal information of an estimated 148 million people. The breach lasted for nearly two months and exposed sensitive information such as credit card numbers, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and addresses. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
Did we mention the fact that Equifax waited months before telling the public about it? Apparently the personal safety of the 148 million people affected isn’t as important as Equifax’s bottom line. They can wait a few months while we prepare for the wolves right?
The 2018 Marriott International Data Breach
In late 2018, Marriott International announced that they had been the victim of a massive data breach. Over the span of 4 years, Chinese hackers had illegal access to their database which resulted in the exposure of sensitive information for 500 million customers.
According to Marriott, this data breach specifically affected customers who had made reservations at any of their hotels. Information such as arrival and departure time, phone number, mailing address, and passport numbers were exposed.
Marriott stated that payment information was protected by their encryption technology, but also admitted that they were not entirely sure if that information remained protected or not. Not very reassuring is it?
4 years is a long time, and if hackers could stay in their database for 4 years, it’s not a stretch to think they could hack Marriott’s encryption technology within that time. Are you willing to bet your financial security on the word of a company that was hacked for 4 years straight?
The 2013 and 2014 Yahoo Data Breaches
Yahoo isn’t as prominent a name in the digital space in recent years, and after the data breaches that occurred in 2013 and 2014, that’s probably for the best.
Back in September of 2016, Yahoo revealed to the public that a cyber attack that occurred back in 2013 affected 500 million users. That’s bad enough, but it gets even “better”. Three months later, Yahoo admitted that another data breach occurred in 2013. Initially, it was thought that this brought the number of compromised accounts to 1 billion, which is already the biggest hack in history. But no, there’s a cherry on top of this horror story cake.
In October of 2017, Yahoo confirmed that all 3 billion of their users at the time were affected by the data breaches. The single biggest data breach in the history of the Internet and Yahoo didn’t tell its users for years.
Have you begun to realize that these companies don’t really care about you? No? Well don’t worry, we’re not done with this talking point yet.
The 12-year Cyber Attacks of the APT10 Hacker Group
In late 2018, the United States Department of Justice revealed to the public that two Chinese nationals, Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, had been stealing sensitive information and technology data from the United States and a dozen other countries. For 12 years.
Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong are suspected of being members of the Chinese hacker group Advanced Persistent Threat 10. The activities of APT10 are believed to be sanctioned by the Chinese Ministry of State Security. So if everything we know about Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong is true, don’t even dream of them ever facing justice for their alleged crimes.
According to the DOJ, the APT10 have been stealing trade secrets and technology data from dozens of American companies and agencies over the span of 12 years. Some of the most notable names cited for being targets of the APT10, include NASA, the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (A lab under the Department of Energy), and the US Navy.
Despite a promise made in 2015 between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping that they would cease cyber attacks on each other, China doesn’t seem to have any interest in upholding their end of the agreement. Chinese hackers have also been tagged as being the culprits responsible for the hack on Marriott International as well.
Make no mistake: These companies don’t care about you.
None of these big tech companies are your friends. And we do mean none of them.
Like Facebook? Not even delving into the numerous scandals Facebook is involved in which have compromised the data of millions of users, including the Cambridge Analytica Data Harvesting Scandal, have you seen any of the patents Facebook is trying to clear? It’s downright creepy. Someone at Facebook must be attempting to turn Facebook into a real-life version of Zola’s Algorithm.
Windows 10 is the most-used operating system in the world. Did you know that Microsoft harvests your private information by default? Your default settings on Windows OS is that you have none.
Account Info is listed as one of the pieces of data that Microsoft harvests from you, but they don’t actually go into detail as to what is contained in said Account Info, so your guess is as good as mine. It’s left intentionally vague to protect themselves as much as possible.
If you want any form of privacy on Windows OS, then you need to set the privacy parameters yourself. But it doesn’t end there. Did you also know that whenever there’s a major system update that Microsoft resets your privacy settings back to default i.e. zero?
And how about those automatic updates? Yeah, Microsoft uses those. So there might be a major update that occurs automatically that you don’t know about, so your privacy could be compromised for days, weeks, or months. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Moral of the story: The bottom line is that these companies only care about their bottom line.
Protecting yourself online: Two things to remember
Hopefully we haven’t scared you off the Internet. It can be a terrifying place in 2019, but you can protect yourself. Your protection online boils down to two primary factors:
1. Get yourself a VPN immediately
We said it before, and we’ll say it again: If you use the Internet in 2019, a Virtual Private Network is mandatory. The average user faces a two-pronged attack by cybercriminals and greedy tech companies who want your data for their own financial gain. You can’t afford to not use a VPN anymore.
The primary directive of a VPN is keeping your data safe. VPNs hide your IP address and keep your data safe from things like DNS leaks. If your connection ever drops out, all of the best VPN services employ a kill-switch. If your VPN disconnects, you and your data become exposed. A kill-switch immediately cuts off your Internet connection until you’re your VPN connection is reestablished, which keeps your data safe.
The best VPN services also don’t keep any logs of your activity, as noted in the Ultimate VPN Guide, which also goes a long way to helping you remain as private as possible when you’re online.
There are more VPN services than we could possibly list here, but we’ve narrowed down the field to five recommendations:
If you’re unsure of whether you like a particular VPN service or not, most come with free trials or money-back guarantees up to 30 days. Nearly every VPN service is pricey when it comes to one-month subscriptions, but a VPN is a long-term investment, so you should be looking at annual or bi-annual plans anyway.
2. Enjoy convenience technology but don’t rely on it. Complacency equals vulnerability.
The Digital Era is a strange one. You see, on one hand, people need to be vigilant and take multiple steps to ensure their privacy and security more than ever before. But on the other, advances in technology are allowing humans to delegate numerous functions to smart tech and AI. This presents a dangerous dichotomy. Get too complacent and let technology take the front wheel, and it still might bite you in the rear. Many studies have shown that the younger generations are getting a little bit too obsessed/involved in technology use. The key is vigilance and moderation.
We’re not saying you can’t take it easy or enjoy the technology of the current year, we’re just saying that if you are too lax, then you’re likely to be an easy mark for cybercriminals. And you’ll probably end up like one of the humans at the end of Wall-E too!
It’s okay to lean on the shoulders of a friend. But remember that these big tech companies aren’t your friends. So don’t let them give you a piggyback ride.
If you’ve managed to make it this far, then hopefully we’ve changed your mind on the seriousness of cyber attacks. The world is only going to get more and more digital, and if you aren’t ahead of the digital wave before it comes full force, then you’re probably going to get swept up by the tide. And by then, it’s probably too late to smarten up. Don’t take the chance, start cleaning up your act today.