In 2014, the world was exposed to an unauthorized glimpse inside entertainment giant Sony Pictures. Confidential information, including personal information about employees of Sony, executive salary information, and previously unreleased Sony films were made public, courtesy of computer hackers who called themselves the “Guardians of Peace.” That same year, Home Depot admitted that 56 million credit cards were at risk after hackers broke into its payment systems. In 2013, during the Thanksgiving season, cyber criminals installed malware that successfully stole 40 million credit card numbers from Target, despite the company taking measures to defend itself against just such an attack.
If it seems like cybersecurity attacks are happening all the time, that’s because they’re becoming more prevalent. According to Interpol, the number of cybercrimes that occur is increasing at a rapid rate. The agency divides attacks into the following three general categories:
- Cybersecurity attacks that target hardware and software, such as malware;
- Financial crimes, such as online fraud and phishing schemes; and
- Abuse, also known as “sexploitation.”
Additionally, more serious trends are emerging. Cyber criminals used to be mostly individuals or small groups; now, cybersecurity attacks are being perpetrated by partnerships between criminal organizations and unscrupulous technology professionals, often with the goal of obtaining money to fund further illegal activities. Individuals and companies frequently rely too heavily on software security measures without having a Plan B. As exemplified by the case of Target, security software is hardly foolproof, and if it’s breached, companies without a backup are left exposed. As cyberspace gets bigger with technology like cloud and mobile computing, it becomes more difficult to control, and the risks of cyber attacks only increase.
Cybercrime Prevention: A Career as a Cybersecurity Specialist
The increasing prevalence of cybersecurity attacks on both individuals and businesses emphasizes the need for IT security professionals who specialize in cybersecurity. Many IT security jobs, such as information security analyst, require, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field. To take their education further, IT security professionals can specialize with a graduate certificate in cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity specialist jobs are in high demand and are well compensated: according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, the average annual salary of an information security analyst was $88,890, and these jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 37% between 2012 and 2022, which, as the Bureau notes, is “much faster than average.”
How Individuals Can Protect Themselves from Cyber Attacks
Even if you’re not an IT security professional, it’s still important that you not only are aware of the risks and threats you might face in cyberspace, but that you also take steps to protect yourself and your data. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that you take the following measures to keep yourself safe:
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone or via email unless you’re absolutely sure of whom you’re giving it to. Cyber criminals are known to contact people claiming to be a representative of an existing agency, such as the IRS. They may even possess some of your personal information; which they share with you in order to seem legitimate. Instead of responding to them, the DHS recommends that you ask for their name and a call back number. Then, contact the agency they claim to represent and find out if they’re really trying to contact you.
- Keep your operating system, browser, and anti-virus software updated. Companies often offer such updates free of charge.
- Opt for a password that’s difficult to crack, instead of one that’s easy to remember. Unfortunately, the most commonly used passwords, like “password” or “123456,” are also the most easily stolen. As passwords are often virtually the only defense between you and would-be cyber criminals, it is of the utmost importance that you create strong passwords and that you neither share them with others nor use the same password for more than one account.
- Never click on links sent to you via email. Even if you’re sure an email is perfectly legitimate, the safest practice is to go to the company’s website and log on directly.
The increased risks to cybersecurity demonstrate that cyber criminals are continually looking for ways to get around basic safety measures. Particularly if you’re running a business, and are privy to the personal information of clients and employees, it’s important to hire an IT security professional. In turn, considering the increased cybersecurity risks, if you are an IT security professional, taking the time to increase your knowledge of the latest cybersecurity procedures is a highly valuable and worthwhile endeavor. Not only will you gain more skills, but you’ll be better able to meet the market demand for cybersecurity specialists.