Top five cybersecurity threats

5 minute read

Discover five ways cyber scammers are targeting wealthy individuals, and practical steps you can take to protect yourself against fraud.

In today’s fast-moving digital world, cyber crime is a growing challenge. With new threats emerging daily, from crude ruses to sophisticated scams, being cyber aware is an increasingly important skill.

Here we share five of the main cyber threats and how to avoid them, to help keep you and your family safe online.

1. Phishing emails

Email phishing is one of the oldest, and most common, forms of cybercrime. Its aim is to convince people to reveal personal or financial data, typically by clicking a malicious link or attachment within an email. Fraudsters often try to tempt recipients with attractive offers or rewards, or to scare them into action by threating account deactivation or fines. As technology has improved, so has the sophistication of email scams, and they can be very difficult to spot at first glance.

The challenge has been compounded by hackers who buy and sell datasets containing millions of email addresses within their networks. This enables criminals to extend their pool of potential victims for a relatively small outlay. With billions of scam emails sent every day, for many it’s a simple numbers game – and often they only need to fool a few people to reap significant rewards.

‘Spear phishing’ is a more refined approach, where scammers target specific people, often using data previously stolen or gleaned online to create highly personalised emails. Wealthy individuals and families in particular may be targeted, given the higher potential stakes.

How to stay safe: In short, be suspicious. It pays to double check every email you receive before taking action, especially if it includes a link or attachment. You can often find clues to fraud in the sender’s details, email spelling and grammar, or graphics used.

2. Credential stuffing

Another growing and serious cyber challenge is so-called ‘credential stuffing’. This occurs when criminals use stolen usernames and passwords combinations, which have often been posted online following data leaks or breaches, to try and break into thousands of other websites. With the rise of artificial intelligence and online bots, this is much easier and faster than you might expect.

The volume of usernames and passwords available on criminal forums is eye-watering – one study found that there are over 24 billion of them on the dark web.1 The problem is exacerbated by companies who don’t scramble customers’ passwords in their databases, making them far easier to hack. Once criminals have this data, they try to exploit people who use the same (or very similar) username and password pairings across multiple accounts.

Hackers use credential stuffing to access a range of accounts, from streaming services to online shopping to social media. If they access your email account, which is often used to verify your identity, they can wreak significantly more damage.

How to stay safe: Avoid using the same log-in details across your online accounts, to limit the potential impact should your details be uncovered. Change your passwords or passcodes regularly and try to make them as varied as possible.

3. Tax year-end scams

Fraudsters often try to tap into our fears and concerns to elicit a response. They may use key events or milestones to ‘re-bait’ their messaging. We saw this during the pandemic, where scammers adapted their schemes to exploit worries over COVID-19.

Phishing campaigns around tax year-end are common, with emails, texts or calls from so-called tax authorities. These scams may mention tax rebates or tax demands, which may require you to share personal details to resolve the matter. They often convey a sense of urgency, in the hope that you’ll act without overly scrutinising the request.

How to stay safe: If you receive a suspicious message, don’t reply or click on any links. Remember that tax authorities will never ask for personal information by email or text, so never hand over your details. You could contact tax authorities directly, via official channels, to check if the message in genuine.

4. Parcel delivery texts

The rise of online shopping has created many new opportunities for fraud – including impersonating couriers. Scammers increasingly send fake parcel tracking or ‘missed delivery’ texts, often with links to fraudulent sites that ask for payments for customs or delivery fees.

With so many of us regularly receiving parcels at home, from many different delivery firms, they know it can be hard to keep track. And as with email phishing, criminals tend to cast their nets wide with fake texts, messaging as many numbers as possible in the hope someone takes the bait.

How to stay safe: Even if you’re expecting a parcel, always be vigilant with any delivery text you receive. Check the details provided in the text against your original order confirmation. Avoid clicking any links, and check with the company directly via another means, if in doubt.

5. Shoulder surfing

Shoulder surfing – where criminals look over your shoulder to steal important information – is seeing something of a revival. Whereas in the past, thieves focused on ATM machine fraud, today they are more interested in accessing your smartphone, where many of us have banking and investment apps installed.

Shoulder surfers will try to observe you enter personal or financial details on your phone, such as your passcode, card details or account passwords, before stealing your device at an opportune moment. Once your phone is in their possession, they can potentially access all kinds of personal data, including your finances, especially if you use the same details across other apps and accounts.

How to stay safe: Using biometric authentication, like fingerprints or facial recognition, will make it harder (but not impossible) for scammers to access your accounts. Two-factor authentication, which requires a one-time code from an app or text, can also provide additional security. Avoid using the same password or PIN for multiple accounts, or storing these details on your device.

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