How Often Are Americans Really Hacked?
MAY 09, 2017 16:28 PM
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How Often Are Americans Really Hacked?

By Larry Alton

Most people in the United States rely on technology to do their work, exchange messages, and even handle their financial transactions. The fear of being hacked, or having their personal information vulnerable and/or stolen, is prominent and played up by both technology companies and the media.

A combination of news stories, TV shows, and movies hyperbolize the threat of “hackers” and cybercriminals, sometimes even stretching what “hacking” really means—but it’s clearly a threat, and one worth considering.

So what is the reality of “hacking”? How often are Americans hacked, and what happens when they are?

What the Statistics Say

According to The Best VPN and data from Ponemon Institute, nearly half of all Americans have their personal data compromised each year. That includes small breaches, such as someone figuring out your Twitter password, to massive breaches, such as your identity being stolen and your bank accounts emptied. Granted, you may not experience negative repercussions from this data being stolen, and you may not even be aware that it was stolen; sometimes, cybercriminals steal millions of customers’ information at once and sell it to third parties, who only use a fraction of it for nefarious purposes. However, it should be eye-awakening that half of Americans will be “hacked” this year.

The numbers for businesses are just as alarming, and it’s mostly small businesses that are targeted. According to a 2016 report by Symantec, 43 percent of all cyberattacks deliberately target small businesses—a figure that’s grown year over year since 2011. That’s because small businesses occupy a middle ground of vulnerability; they have more juicy information than individuals, but less secure standards than a mid- to large-sized business.

What Hacking Usually Means

It’s important to understand what qualifies as “hacking” in these definitions, as it doesn’t usually involve a computer genius typing furiously at a keyboard halfway across the world. Cybercriminals are opportunists, and they often look for the easiest opportunities—the low-hanging fruit—for their activities. Oftentimes, this means targeting naïve people with phishing schemes or other cheap tricks to fool consumers into giving up their passwords voluntarily. It may also mean taking advantage of an unsecured Wi-Fi network, or simply guessing common passwords like “123456789.”

How to Protect Yourself

Flip a coin and call it. That’s the likelihood of getting hacked this year, right? Not necessarily. Remember, hackers target the most vulnerable consumers, so even if you take a handful of actions to improve your cybersecurity, you’ll stand above the crowd and greatly reduce your chances of having your personal data stolen.

·        Regularly update your software and devices. According to CloudSites, one of the best ways to protect yourself is to simply keep your devices and software updated. Updates include new features that patch exploitable holes, and guard against newly detected threats before they can get to you. The older your software is, the easier it is to exploit.

·        Use antivirus and antispyware programs. Downloading an antivirus or antispyware program will instantly protect you against most computer viruses, and online scams that might otherwise obtain your personal information. It’s not entirely foolproof, but it is an important additional layer of security that can protect you.

·        Use a virtual private network (VPN). If you’re exchanging important or sensitive information on a regular basis, it’s wise to use a virtual private network (VPN), which can encrypt the data you send and receive. This makes it far more difficult for outsiders to “listen in” to what you’re exchanging.

·        Choose strong passwords. Weak passwords can easily be guessed—either by a person or an algorithm. Complex passwords are strong; they contain a mix of letters (upper-case and lower-case), numbers, and symbols, and are several characters long. They also don’t have patterns, such as birthdays or the names of your children, hidden in them. Don’t make it easy for hackers to take advantage of you.

·        Change your passwords regularly. As an added measure of security for your passwords, change them regularly—and never use the same password for multiple applications. Long periods of idle time give hackers more opportunities to guess your password, and once they have it, to actually use it. A change can quickly render a previously stolen password inert.

·        Stay wise to scams. Stay educated about the latest scams, and treat everything you see on the web with a sense of scrutiny. Phishing scams are among the most common, but there are surprisingly clever ways to get you to hand over your password and sensitive information voluntarily.

Follow these best practices, and chances are, you won’t be part of the 50 percent of Americans who will be hacked this year. That doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof, but it will equip you with a heavier defense that most people are just too apathetic to create for themselves. 

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