Officials in Washington recently announced that the US has just been hit with what could be the largest cyber-attack in American history. The attack has further reinforced the importance of protecting your privacy online.
US targeted in massive cyber-attack
The Independent reported that hackers stole the personal information of four million current and former US government employees. The cyber-criminals managed to gain access to systems at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which stored the names, social security numbers and birth dates of employees of various US Federal agencies.
Washington has tried to limit the damage. The government has announced that it will inform affected employees of the breach within the coming days, whilst the OPM is planning to offer them identity theft insurance and credit monitoring for the next 18 months.
The government in Washington D.C. aren’t telling us much about what happened. A spokesperson at the Department of Homeland Security has said that “the FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred.” Officials including Republican Senator Susan Collins, who sits on the intelligence committee, alleged that the hackers were based in China.
This was denied by Zhu Haiquan, the spokesperson at the Chinese embassy to the US, who claimed that accusations were “not responsible and counterproductive.” Haiquan added that “cyber-attacks conducted across countries are hard to track and therefore the source of attacks is difficult to identify.”
How safe are we online?
This begs the question, how safe are we online? TRUSTe research conducted at the start of 2014 shows that 89% of British internet users are worried about privacy online; over a third said they “frequently” or “always” worry about their privacy online. Furthermore, 60% of respondents admitted that they were more worried about online security at the start of 2014 than they were at the start of 2013.
They were right to worry; global security company Symantec’s 2015 Internet Security Threat Report showed that the UK is the second most cyber-attacked country on Earth. We also have the dubious honour of being the most cyber-attacked country in Europe; the rate of hacks in the UK rose 40% from 2014-2015.
Privacy and online reputation
A cyber-attack can inflict serious damage on your reputation online. Privacy is key to maintaining a positive image online because if a hacker gains access to your personal information, they can do whatever they want.
Let’s take your Facebook account as an example. If a hacker gained access to your Facebook login details, by extension they gain access to your account and put themselves in control. They could use your account to post anything they want, and people will believe that you’re responsible.
Google ranks social media accounts highly on a search for your name because of the volume of traffic these sites receive and it sees them as a relevant source. This means that any of the 1.17 people who use Google (as of 2012) will see the unwanted content posted by a hacker on your Facebook account and associate with you, causing irreparable damage to your reputation online.
How to protect your privacy online
This is why it’s vital that you take steps to protect your personal information online. Igniyte would suggest you implement the following measures to safeguard your privacy online.
- Choose a complicated password: Your password is the gateway to your personal information, so you need to make it hard to crack. Choose a password that includes letters of both cases as well as numbers. Alternatively, you can use a password generation system such as LastPass to safeguard your password.
- Install antivirus software: Hackers often use computer viruses to gain access to your private information online. This is why it’s key you install antivirus software on your device; this safeguard’s your system from viruses and prevents hackers from receiving your personal details.
- Utilise social media privacy settings: Your social media accounts can be used against you to damage your reputation online. Luckily, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have an in-built safeguard which allows you to protect your account from hackers; privacy settings. Familiarise yourself with and check privacy settings to shield your private details.
- Look out for the padlock: You should always use a secure site when you’re shopping or banking. If you don’t, hackers could gain access to your financial details. You will know whether a website is secure because it’ll feature a padlock sign in the left corner of the search bar at the top of your browser.
- Log out: You should always log out of websites and close the window down. This will make it harder for cyber-criminals to gain control of your online accounts if once they’ve hacked into your device.
Managing your personal information online
There are plenty of other things you can do to protect your privacy online. Find out more by checking out Igniyte’s Guide to Managing Your Personal Information Online.