How to protect yourself from a cyber attack

Published: Jun. 28, 2017 at 5:33 PM CDT
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Government agencies, law enforcement, hospitals and other businesses are coping with a crippling "hacktavist" locking up computers and holding files hostage demanding ransom -- $300 in Bitcoin -- or about $750,000.

The hackers have wreaked havoc in Ukraine, Russia, Australia, London, and as close to home as Pittsburgh, Long Island, New York and Memphis.

It raises the question of, "is your business next?" and how can you protect yourself from a cyber attack of this scale or on any level?

"They're always happening whether or not we know they're happening," said Ashley Podhradsky, Associate Professor of Digital Forensics at Dakota State University. "There's always a lot of pre-planning that goes into things."

Protecting yourself from becoming a victim is as simple as planning ahead.

"It might be fun to see that your refrigerator can text you but if you don't have to have one more device that's on your WiFi that you don't protect or secure or update, its a good idea not to be an early adopter of some of those things," Podhradsky said.

If you have to have the latest and greatest new devices, you should consider the network you're connecting to.

"Public WifFs are tempting, but when it comes down to it, they're very insecure and when anyone can connect to it, anyone can monitor get that tropic," Podhradsky explained. "If you log on to your banking -- they can get your username and password and then they have access to your financials."

And keeping that login information safe can start with setting your password.

Set a secure password, on.... logins," said Justin Tolman, a senior instructor at Access Data, one of the leading cyber forensics firms in the world. "Whether it be, email, social media,[or] banking especially."

Tolman said the key to setting a secure password is more than just a pet's name, the street you grew up on your favorite elementary school teacher.

"Phrases are really nice or taking the first letter of a phrase you're familiar with," Tolman explained. "Maybe some lyrics from your favorite song with maybe the first letters of those and some numbers and different things."

But what should you do if you're part of a hack, where someone is holding your files hostage and demands a ransom to get them back?

"It's really up to that organization to decide if they want to do it," Podhradsky said. "I recommend not, because you're not guaranteed that you're going to get your files back and you're not always going to get them back."

Tolman said, it's hard to give a definitive answer.

"It gets very difficult to say 'yay' or 'nay' on paying it," Tolman said. "The trick is staying as secure as possible beforehand -- but that doesn't help you after the fact."

Tolman also said internet users should be wary of websites that appear to be the real deal, but are actually fake -- and use fake website banners to look legitimate. He said you should always check the link before clicking anything or handing over information.

Bitcoin, if you're wondering, is a global currency that allows users to stay anonymous, isn't tied to any specific country or bank -- so it cuts of the middle man and any sort of fees -- making it impossible to trace. Right now, the currency exchange for Bitcoin is about $2,600.