Cyber criminal activity or cyber-terrorism used to be things that we read about occasionally or heard about but had never seen. However, many people have seen reports, or may know someone (even themselves) who has been a victim of some type of cybercrime.
While the most common types include spam, which generally seems harmless and is more annoying than anything else, there are many types (including some kinds of spam) that can be very harmful and dangerous, and may affect you more than you even realize.
Here is a look at some of those types of crimes and what you can do to protect yourself against them.
Spam is the most common type of cybercrime in computer security. While some spam seems harmless, often it is used to spread viruses, worms, and other types of malware or even spyware to give hackers access to your computer, or to destroy or delete your files.
The best way to combat this is not to open messages that look spammy and not to, under any circumstances, download a file from someone you don’t know.
Even if you do know them, be very careful about downloading .exe files as they are programs. Most email providers will automatically screen and may even block emails with .exe attachments.
One way that viruses can be used against you is to commit credit card fraud. Some of these viruses will keep track of every keystroke that you make on your keyboard and will send these to the hacker who created the virus.
They may be able to access your social security number, credit card number, home address or online banking passwords. Again, the best way to prevent this is not to open unknown attachments.
It’s also a good idea to get a high quality anti-virus program in place on your computer. However, some estimate that these may catch less than 50% of viruses, so it’s good to have a secure firewall in place also.
Cyber bullying, while perhaps less directly engaged in with criminal intent, is still a reality. Among teenagers, online harassment is very common, and some states in the U.S. have laws to punish those who engage in such activities.
Some sites, like Facebook or Myspace, allow reporting of activities that may be considered harassment in order to weed out online bullies.
A botnet is a group of hijacked computers that are all controlled by a single person on the internet.
Usually, they’ll use a virus to gain control of your home computer and may use the computers as a dead-drop – a hijacked computer or server which is used to store the personal data that they steal from others.
Normally the theft is committed by virus, keyloggers, or spyware tools and the data is loaded to the hijacked computers. You can pick these types of viruses up in email attachments or even by visiting websites that contain viruses.
Sometimes this is called a ‘drive by download’ – a website that is set up to deliberately infect the computers of any visitor to the site. Typically the malicious program installs automatically without the user’s knowledge.
Sometimes, computers send false data to a specific website in order to try to knock it off of the internet. This is usually referred to as a DDOS – distribution denial of service.
Many times these types of attacks are used against banks or financial institutions in either an attempt to steal information, or as a threat where ransom is demanded.
One of the ways that the government and other agencies combat hackers and cybercrimes is to set up what is known as a honeypot. This is a network or computer that looks poorly protected to the casual viewer, but has deliberately been set up to look that way to catch criminals.
About the Author: Frank E. Mann is a Houston family lawyer who also writes about family-related law issues.