The Identity Theft Crisis and Why Cybersecurity Education Matters

With the slew of online security breaches that have hit major U.S. companies and organizations, American citizens are increasingly concerned about catastrophic cyber attacks. Some people believe these online threats are primarily targeted at large infrastructures and not individuals – but that is not the case. The constant shift of online security procedures from commercial banks prove that cybercriminals do not discriminate. In fact, identity theft, the act of stealing someone’s identity to gain access to their personal assets and finances, is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. More than 15 million U.S. residents are victims of identity theft each year, leading to $50 billion in personal losses.

It’s often difficult to track down all the tactics that black-hat hackers use to access information, as identity theft schemes evolve over time. The most common ways that cybercriminals can access your information online is through unsolicited emails, malware, social media scams, and phishing attacks. They can also steal sensitive information offline. One practice used by cybercriminals is “shoulder surfing;” this involves sitting or standing close enough to a person so that they are able to see you enter your credit card information on your phone. Another tactic is “dumpster diving;” this occurs when a person literally sifts through your personal garbage or a communal trash bin to access discarded checks, bank statements, and pre-approved credit cards. After gaining your personal information, criminals can act as you and conduct a wide array of crimes: filing false loan applications, activating several credit cards, and purchasing expensive goods. All of this can be done without you recognizing it or until they’ve inflicted substantial damage to your financial accounts.

This is why cybersecurity professionals are vital to stopping criminal activity via the Internet. As specialists, they work with businesses in both the private and public sector to keep computer information systems secure. They plan, coordinate, and oversee information security programs and manage who has access to confidential information. Cybersecurity professionals stay up to date on the latest virus reports, cyber attacks, Internet scams, and security breaches in order to make sure that they are constantly keeping their networks protected and secure. Because cybercriminals can inflict a significant amount of damage to financial institutions, businesses, government agencies, and military organizations through the disruption of service or intellectual property theft, cybersecurity specialists must work quickly to resolve and remediate issues. They use analysis, forensics, and reverse engineering to diagnose these situations, in addition to setting up firewalls and creating network protocols. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI actively recruit cybersecurity specialists to help thwart major cyber attacks that could lead to significant turmoil for the nation – such as a breach of access to high-level military intelligence files.

Many financial institutions have set up extra security measures to detect fraudulent activity for their customers, however they cannot fight cybercriminals alone. Citizens must continue to be aware of their online activity. Here are some specific measures you can take to prevent yourself from being a victim of identity theft:

  • Don’t open attachments or click links in emails that appear suspicious. If someone asks you to log in through a third-party link, go to the original website instead.
  • Don’t give out your personal information over the phone or in an email. Hackers will attempt to deceive you through social engineering (by making an email appear personal and real).
  • Pay attention to URLs. Malicious sites will sometimes alter the spelling of a popular domain name.
  • Be wary of link requests sent by text message. Do not click on unknown links or download items that could possibly contain a virus.

Want to learn more about cybersecurity and earn three college credits in the process? Click here.

Tagged: cybersecurity fundamentals of cybersecuirty computer science