Cybersecurity 101 – Protecting yourself and your company from Internet threats.

Why cyber crime is a multi-billion-dollar industry?

Information is the currency of hacking. The information hackers want is exactly the kind of information you want to keep private: login information, passwords, medical records, social security numbers, birth dates and more. Truly, hacking goes behind identity theft – it can be a total account takeover and it is extremely profitable. Cyber crime damage costs are expected to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021 making it more profitable than the global trade of all major illegal drugs combined.

How do hackers make money? 

Once the hacker has infiltrated your system and obtained the desired data, hackers can either choose to sell this information to the highest bidder OR use it for their own purposes. Access to your bank details makes it easy for them to transfer money to their own accounts. Credit card details are often sold. Hackers will also use your data to impersonate you, tricking others in your network to go to infected websites or sign up for phony offers. Extortion is also common. Once hackers have access to your accounts, they can use your information against you, forcing you to pay them to avoid exposing it. 

The cost of cyber crime for businesses goes beyond the direct cost of a breach. The indirect costs of cyber attacks seem almost immeasurable from lost business to the negative impact on a company’s reputation. Victims of cyber crime are often preoccupied with dealing with the immediate crisis, rather than staving off future attacks, but as cyber crime continues to grow, companies must view cybersecurity efforts as just another cost of doing business.

Who are the hackers?

In an environment that mirrors organized crime, hacking is a full-time job. While we think of developers as people who create new apps or software, there are many parts of the world where their talents are leveraged to disrupt companies, governments, and people’s lives. The hackers may not even be directly profiting from the breach but rather just a cog in a dynamic and malicious industry. 

Types of Hackers

There are hackers that disrupt organizations for fun or to simply see if they can. Others are hacking to further an ideological or political agenda, such as those working for Anonymous, the infamous international hacktivist group. No matter the reason, a hacker is only successful if they convince their target to willingly expose themselves to risk. They do that by impersonating trusted websites, sending emails meant to trick you into clicking an infected link, and creating malicious web applications that steal your data while you use them.

Think Like a Hacker

When it comes to combatting cyber crime, thinking like a hacker can help you anticipate vulnerabilities in your own systems and accounts. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Where do we store our sensitive data?
  • Who has access to this data?
  • How is this data secured? 
  • How do we train personnel to protect the integrity of our data? 

When you start to assess you data and its security, you will begin to think like a hacker, noting places where defenses are weak. Some organizations even employ ethical hackers to infiltrate their systems to expose and exploit loopholes and identify potential weaknesses. 

What are the different types of cybercrime?

Fraud is at the heart of cyber crime. Posing as a legitimate website or other user, hackers create alternate sites meant to infect, destroy, or otherwise disrupt your computer and Internet usage. As a victim of cyber crime, you are vulnerable to losing your online identity, as well as your emails, health records, and bank accounts.


When hackers attempt to get sensitive data like usernames, passwords, credit card and bank account details by imitating a trustworthy site or email, this is called phishing. Phishing generally occurs via email or instant messaging. Users are directed to enter personal information in a fake website or online form. Phishing can also be used to distribute malware via infected links. Phishing emails often contain offers that seem too good to be true, requests for you to enter your passwords, misspelled links (i.e. instead of, or contains a threat such as account deactivation or security warnings. 


Whaling is a form of phishing, but it is directed at CEO and other top-level executives. The attacks often come in the form of a legal subpoena, customer complaint, or other executive issue that would appear to be a serious and legitimate business complaint. 


This is malicious software that causes damage to your device whether you use a laptop, desktop, tablet, phone, etc. It installs code that can contain viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware, and more. Once the malware has been introduced, it works without your knowledge and allows hackers access into your files and systems. 


This is a type of malware that blocks a user’s access to their data unless a ransom is paid. The victim’s data may be encrypted and hackers often request payment in the form of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin which is very difficult to trace. Ransomware has become more popular in recent years as a way to generate income. Organizations like hospitals, schools, and municipal governments are particularly vulnerable to this type of cyber crime due to their high volume of users and large amounts of sensitive information. When one unsuspecting user downloads the ransomware, the hackers are able to encrypt files and then demand payment to regain access. Where so much sensitive data is at stake, many organizations have chosen to pay the ransom rather than risk the loss of their data.

Denial of Service (DoS)

A DoS attack is meant to cause a disruption in web services. If any essential business processes are run over the Internet, these can cease to function as well. A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) is a large-scale DoS attack where the hacker(s) uses many unique IP addresses. With the incoming traffic flooding the victim originating from so many different sources, it is impossible to stop the attack. It also makes it very difficult to distinguish legitimate user traffic from attack traffic when spread across so many points of origin.

What can you do to protect yourself?

In the world of cybersecurity, more is better. Having multiple layers of protection in place will allow you to fend off a variety of different cyberattacks. Experts recommend that you protect yourself and your organization at every level. This means you need to have cybersecurity for users within your organization and users who access your data from their own computer. Each layer of protection works to secure data by itself and also acts as a backup for the other layers in your defense.

In order to protect your sensitive data online, you can:

Use Better Passwords

The best passwords are long, use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, and are different across accounts. When you receive a new device, make sure to change the default password immediately or require a PIN in order to use it.

While keeping track of all of these passwords may be overwhelming, consider a service, such as 1Password, LastPass, or Dashlane to maintain and keep your passwords secure. Passwords should be changed at least every 8 weeks. Also, it should go without saying, but if you leave your workstation or laptop, much sure to log off.

Secure Your Email

Email is a hacker’s gateway to your private information. Be extra cautious when opening emails- don’t just check the “from” name- make sure you recognize the email address, as well. If you don’t immediately recognize the email address, you shouldn’t open it or click any link contained within.

Take Immediate Action

If you do suspect that your information has been comprised, don’t try to solve the problem alone. Many virus “fixes” are actually malware in disguise. These tech support scams are just another form of cybercrime. Instead, go talk to your IT department as soon as possible. It’s important to get them involved so they can ensure that the virus is eliminated and check the integrity of the entire system.

How can you protect your organization?

Once your personal defenses are in order, you can begin to strengthen cybersecurity across your organization. If you do business online or have any kind of digital presence, you need to: 

Secure Your Website

An SSL certificate is a must for any website that sends or receives sensitive data often found of pages like payment pages, online forms, and login pages. SSL Certificates provide secure, encrypted communications between a website and an internet browser. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, which provides the encryption.  When using websites for business purposes, look for “https” in the URL and a “lock” symbol. The “s” in “https” stands for “secure” and indicates that communication with the webpage is encrypted. This helps to ensure your information is transmitted safely and no one can access it without authorization.

Secure Your Wireless Connection

Your Wi-Fi connection can extend far beyond the walls of your office and a hacker could easily enter your system through it. It’s recommended that companies use WPA2 protocols, rather the outdated WEP or WPA. Additionally, your router password needs to be as strong as all other passwords. Never use a default password and make certain it is nothing that can be easily guessed such as your phone number. Wireless access points are oftentimes configured to broadcast the SSID, or network name. Consider changing these settings to turn this feature off, which can better secure your WiFi network. Network access, Internet access, and location services may be enabled on a device by default. Disable this access for devices that do not need it.

Keep Your Computer OS and Browsers Up-to-Date

Hackers are constantly researching the way a browser or your computer’s operating system, such as Windows or MacOS, is written to find vulnerabilities they can exploit. The vendors of these tools know this and are constantly improving their products to fix any flaws. It is a constant race between hackers and the vendors who make your browsers and operating systems. The longer a problem goes unfixed, the longer hackers have to exploit the problem. 

This constant struggle means that the software you rely on is constantly updated to fix issues that put you at risk. But these fixes only work if you allow the updates to be installed. Putting off updates means that you aren’t making full use of all the protections available.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

Multifactor Authentication is the method of confirming a user’s identity with 2 or more pieces of evidence or factors. Examples include: answering security questions in addition to providing a password, requiring your card or number in addition to your PIN at the bank, receiving a security code via email or text messaging before being allowed to sign in, or requiring a fingerprint and keycard in order to enter a security facility.  

Turning on multi-factor authentication is important on websites that process financial transactions such as a bank, or sensitive information that could be used to impersonate you such as Facebook or Twitter. You can usually enable multifactor authentication through the security settings and directions can often be found in the help section. It may also be called login verification or two-factor authentication. 

Install Anti-Virus Protection

It may sound simple but keeping your anti-virus software up to date is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and your company. Set up your anti-virus software to run regular scans of your hardware and software. These scans will identify and eliminate any potentially harmful malware that might have been inadvertently downloaded to your computer. Automatic updates are often disabled by default. Be sure to turn on this setting to ensure your device receives important security updates when they are released.

Stay Vigilant

The best defense is a good offense. Planning for cybersecurity and the threat of cyberattack is an important part of protection. With your IT department and other stakeholders, come up with a plan that outlines who is in charge in the event of a cyberattack, steps that you will take to identify and contain the threat, and how you will recover lost data.

How can you recover from cybercrime?

It can be hard to know when your data has been breached. In fact, most companies don’t even know they’ve been a victim until 200 days after the attack. With that said, at the first inkling of trouble it’s imperative that you take action. 

Find the Source

First you need to figure out what happened. Use your anti-virus software to run a scan and identify any malware or viruses that are on your device. Work to identify when the attack occurred, which customers or data have been affected and what kind of attack took place. 

Damage Control

Next, you’ll need reset all logins. Your IT department should move sensitive data to a more secure online location and disconnect any hosts  They will also need to find and contain the malicious software so they can understand how the attack took place and prevent it from happening again. Finally, any infected software should be removed and clean copies should be reinstalled. 


You will also need to recover lost or stolen data. All of your data should be regularly backed up in a secure location. Make back-up copies of important information and restore weekly. Store a backup copy offsite for safe keeping. You should also test your backups to make sure that they actually work. Also keep in mind the importance of disposing of old computers and media securely. Just because you’re finished with it doesn’t mean someone else can’t use it to get important information about you, your business, or your customers.

Start Talking

Finally, you have to talk about what happened. Pretending like it didn’t happen might be appealing, but education throughout your company is the key to preventing future attacks.  Did you know that 66% of data breaches are caused by employee negligence? Teaching cybersecurity best practices to all employees is one of the best ways to impede future attacks. You are also likely required to share news of the data breach with any affected customers, clients, or patients. Refer to your industry regulations for more details about data breach disclosure. 

Remember, cybercrime happens to pretty much everyone. There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds, affecting one in three Canadians each year and 43% of cyberattacks target small business. You are not alone in your fight against cybercrime. For more information about cyber solutions for your GTA business, contact PACE Technical today here.


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