The biggest online threats and how to avoid them

Tabby Farrar
January 31, 2019

From wearing a seat belt to warming up before a jog, there are lots of things that you can do to look after yourself day to day. Taking care of yourself online, however, is looking increasingly difficult, with 9.32 billion malware attacks in 2017 alone. So, to make sure you’re as safe in the digital world as you are in the real one, we’re going to take a look at some of today’s biggest online threats and how to avoid them.

Ransomware attacks

Ransomware is a growing cybercrime, with a 300-percent increase over the last two years. It works by taking control of your computer and holding your data ransom and has been used in high-profile attacks against large-scale organisations like the NHS and FedEx.

There are several ways that ransomware can infect your computer, but the most common is through spam emails. It’s a good idea to back up your data or subscribe to a cloud service if you find it tough to leave cat videos or file attachments unopened – that way you won’t run the risk of losing anything important if you happen to download this type of malware.

To stop ransomware from getting onto your computer in the first place, install antivirus software that can flag suspicious emails and links, and try to scan your system regularly. This will not only protect you from viruses but will also help to improve your computer’s operating speed.

Corporate data leaks

You’ve probably heard about Facebook’s recent run of data breaches. One involved more than 50 million users’ data being harvested by Cambridge Analytica in order to target voters in political campaigns across the pond and in the UK, opening the eyes of millions to the pitfalls of social media.

Putting your personal information online can seem like dangerous business now, but fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to minimise the impact of having a bustling social life online.

First, the next time you think about sending a tweet or updating your Facebook status, remember that you’re not just posting to friends and family, you’re publishing to the world – and we’ve all seen what can happen when an ill-considered tweet goes viral!

Second, adjust your settings to suit you. This can be done by deselecting categories on Facebook’s settings page. If you’re asked to log in to an app through Facebook, signing in using the original website can also prevent third parties from accessing your information.

Third and finally, if privacy worries are leaving you stressed out and on edge, you can permanently delete your account. Get back to basics with phone calls, emails and, heaven forbid, actually meeting your friends in person.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, cryptocurrency is an encrypted digital currency – meaning that it can be as valuable to get hold of as ‘real’ traditional money. Computers can ‘mine’ for this digital currency by solving complex mathematical puzzles, but it takes a lot of processing power, which in turn can use a lot of electricity.

One of the latest developments to come from cryptocurrency is the rise of cryptojacking, an obscure form of hacking that hijacks victims’ computers to “mine” cryptocurrencies.

The harm of cryptojacking isn’t as bad as the likes of ransomware, but seeing as it takes up valuable processing power, it can definitely slow down your computer and up your energy bill. Luckily, defending yourself against this type of malware is pretty easy and can be achieved by simply avoiding unsecured networks. You can also find handy cryptojacking blockers online.

IoT device hacks

The ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) refers to the growing number of devices in our homes that connect to the web. Virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa are becoming increasingly popular, along with smart fridges, smart TVs and even smart toasters. However, these devices can pose problems.

Most of us are too excited to read the instructions or set up a new password when we get a bit of tech home – the main priority is getting it out of the box and switching it on. Unfortunately, this means that many of our new devices are protected by only the flimsiest of default passwords that hackers can exploit to gain access to your network.

Therefore, if you’re looking to set up a home network that’s safe as houses, make sure you reset every new device with a strong password and keep your security software up to date.

Phishing scams

A phishing scam, like the name suggests, usually involves baiting the victim with an authentic-looking email from an organisation like a bank, which, once the user has been deceived, can be used to obtain sensitive information like bank details and passwords.

These scams are very common, so much so that the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) has its own page on how to spot them. These social engineering techniques can also leave people thousands out of pocket and feeling foolish, so never give out your personal information online – it’s not worth it!

Spoof networks

Spoof networks are a fraudulent form of Wi-Fi network, which you’ll usually encounter in public places like coffee shops or train stations. These areas often boast free Wi-Fi access – but it’s usually unsecured and easy to mimic with a fake connection.

The spoofing scam involves a hacker setting up a hotspot with a similar name to a genuine one, like ‘free airport wifi’ or ‘guest network’, and tempting victims to log in and surf the net using this fake, encryption-free connection. Once the victim is online and begins entering passwords or credit cards details, the attacker can easily intercept their information and make off with anything from identity details to cold hard cash.

The simplest way to circumvent this type of attack is to avoid unsecured networks altogether. You can also use a VPN, meaning Virtual Private Network, which will hide your information from cyber criminals by adding a layer of end-to-end encryption to any network you use.

Like the everyday hazards we face in the real world, online threats come in lots of different shapes and sizes from the insidious spoof network to the more innocuous cryptojacking. When you’re surfing those binary waves, just remember: you control what you share on social media, unsecured networks are a bad idea, new devices need new passwords, and even though cat videos are adorable they aren’t worth being hacked for.

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