Everyone can be both a victim of and a tool for cyberattacks – how to prevent this?

Cyber spy
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Cyberattacks are becoming an increasingly greater problem in the whole world. This applies to Lithuania too. It is estimated that Lithuania experienced 55 thousand cyberattacks last year. Below, Monika Žemgulytė, Project Manager of cybersecurity competences at "Cyber Security Academy" talks about how these attacks are carried out and how to avoid falling victim to them.

Cyberattacks steal personal data and disrupt public institutions

Cyberattacks are characterized as instances, when a personal computer, a computer network, and informational system, or an infrastructure object is attacked with various malware tools. These attacks can be organized by organizations and individuals alike.

According to M. Žemgulytė, cyberattacks usually aim at objects of public importance.

"Cyberattacks are usually organized from an anonymous source, while their goal is to usurp, disrupt, or destroy data by hacking into informational systems or servers. The attacks have a wide range: from DDoS attacks (when attackers overload a system with fake requests and it stops functioning normally) to viruses, or Trojan horses. All these methods are used to disrupt or shut down the critical infrastructure in the state (energy, transport, banking, etc.) or steal user data to use in future criminal activity (i.e., to extract money from bank accounts)," notes M. Žemgulytė.

Cyberattacks are growing more sophisticated

One can observe that mass cyberattacks are becoming increasingly more innovative and sophisticated.

"Cyberattacks are becoming harder to control, they are growing in scope. Last year, such malware as "Petya" or "WannaCry" spread widely across the world: "WannaCry" hit 150 countries, affected 10000 organizations and several hundred thousand individual users. This malware also reached Lithuania. This attack spread through fake emails with infected attachments and encrypted all data stored on the computer; to regain access, users were asked to pay a ransom in cryptocurrency "Bitcoin." The same principle was used in "Petya," which dealt most damage to companies and public institutions in Eastern Europe. However, the world has seen attacks that reach even millions of people. This September, more than 50 million "Facebook" accounts were hacked; in 2014, cybercriminals hacked 145 million "Ebay" online store accounts. In 2007, of the strongest cyberattacks to date hit Estonia, where a massive DDoS attack disrupted the work of government institutions, media, educational systems, and bank servers. Before it was resolved, this attack effectively paralyzed the public services and the daily life of Estonians," tells M. Žemgulytė.

Cybersecurity expert adds that cyberattacks happen every year and their numbers are only growing.

Lithuania is strengthening cybersecurity

Lithuania experienced the largest cyberattack in its history in 2016. Then, during a series of DDoS attacks, more than a dozen of state institution informational systems were disrupted.

In the last several years, as the number of cyberattacks increased, Lithuania prepared and confirmed a National cybersecurity strategy. It calls for strengthening the national cyber defense capabilities, for ensuring cybercrime prevention and investigation, for building a cybersecurity culture, for fostering innovation, for deepening public-private sector cooperation and cooperation between science institutions, and for deepening international cooperation in the area of cybersecurity.

All European Union member states have agreed to develop such strategies to more effectively combat cybercrime.

How to avoid cyberattacks and not become their tool

According to M. Žemgulytė, the actions taken by state institutions are not enough to combat cybercrime – broader social awareness is necessary.

"Every individual should take personal responsibility to protect their devices. All servers and computers need to be equipped with security solutions (i.e., antivirus programs), need to use the most recent operational systems. Users need to update their systems regularly and strengthen their passwords. Malware can also reach users through infected websites or file-sharing platforms ("torrents"). Malware can also be activated when opening infected documents or email attachments," lists M. Žemgulytė.

Lately, another type of cyberattacks became widespread – links sent with emails that direct their receivers to infected or fake websites. If opened, the malware automatically enters the computer system and can, for example, trace the user's keyboard clicks to extract their login and password information – all without their knowledge. If the user, when visiting their accounts, does not use the dual factor authentication (when, after inserting password or PIN, the user is prompted to confirm their identity with additional codes sent by SMS or generated in a PIN generator), their login information can fall to cybercriminals' hands.

M. Žemgulytė offers several items of advice for those wishing to protect themselves against cyberattacks.

"You should always check, where the links you receive want to direct you. This can be done by hovering your cursor over the link and checking the lower-left corner of the browser, where the full address is shown. If you open an unverified link, you should immediately check the URL address – it can be completely different from the address of the real website. For example, you may see faceboook.com instead of facebook.com. I would strongly recommend being very critical about all incoming content and never open unknown links or suspicious emails. If the links direct you to familiar websites, go to the website using the traditional route – by typing in the URL address or with a "Google" search – rather than by opening the link in an email. Above all, always stay alert," advises M. Žemgulytė.

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