As time goes on and technology becomes ever more complex and advanced, the threats to our safety online become more numerous and harder to avoid. 2016 saw a wave of cyber-attacks and some huge news stories focusing on hacking.

Ordinary people may not be too concerned about being targeting by internet crime collectives or having their personal data smeared across the front pages of newspapers, but it’s still important to stay up to date with the latest trends in cyber-crime, and take steps to ensure safety online.

To break it down, we’ve listed a few of the major threats to your security in 2017.

Ransomware

Extortion and blackmail are age-old techniques, beloved by criminals and thugs the world over. In the past they were confined to the physical realm, however in recent times they have made their way into the digital space.

These kinds of attacks can take several forms. One example is where hackers infiltrate a user’s computer and seize compromising material, such as personal photos, secret information, or evidence of wrongdoings. The hacker can then demand that the victim pays up, or the information will be made public, resulting in a damaged reputation or worse.

If you have nothing to hide then this isn’t a huge issue, but there’s another type of ransomware that can affect anybody. This brand involves the hacker encrypting the files on your computer, rendering them inaccessible to you. If you want to regain access to your stuff – you guessed it – it’s going to cost you.

Ransomware is not particularly new, having been around for several years now. However, it’s on the rise. In 2016 there was a 400% rise in ransomware attacks, and cyber-criminals are looking at ways to launch mass attacks which target thousands of computers at the same time.

It’s likely that the biggest targets for ransomware will be large companies and institutions. That’s not to say that your personal data is safe, though – and without the watertight security of a big corporation you may be at higher risk.

To stay safe, exercise caution when downloading new files, as ransomware has to be installed to work. Pay attention to file sizes and types, and stay away from untrustworthy sites. Backing up your files is also a shrewd move, as is investing in some solid antivirus software, such as Avast or AVG.

Attacks on the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things has been the talk of the town recently. It involved using the internet to connect everyday appliances and gadgets, not to mention on a larger scale in wider society. As convenient as it is to control your microwave from your smartphone or print a document from a hundred miles away, this technology does come with some risks.

Savvy hackers can break into devices and manipulate them to their own ends. This could range from relatively harmless things like switching off your neighbour’s annoying radio, to more insidious attacks like disabling the security system of an entire building and unlocking the electronic doors.

Currently, producers of IoT devices don’t pay an enormous amount of attention to the security of their products, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Fortunately there haven’t been any major incidents of this kind yet, but unless creators start taking this stuff seriously it’s only a matter of time.

Apart from the threat to ordinary people, this kind of crime could be targeted at organisations and large companies, where the potential for disaster is pretty terrifying.

Smartphone Hacking

It’s hard to go anywhere nowadays without seeing hordes of people, face down, eyes fixed on the screens of their smartphones. The explosion in these devices over the last few years has made them an obvious target for hackers, but they’ve proved tougher to infiltrate than traditional computers.

However, there are still threats out there to users of smartphones. Many of these take the form of Trojan horse viruses, which normally gain access to the phone via an app download. Once inside, they cleverly hide themselves and set about making changes to the system.

This could involve forcing the download of certain apps and software, or more sinister acts such as stealing personal data (passwords, phone numbers) or tracking your phone’s location. They’re difficult to find and delete, and often masquerade as a harmless, well-known app.

While these types of viruses more commonly target Android devices because of their less secure app store, Apple users are not totally safe either and everyone should remain vigilant. Simply doing things like checking the reviews of apps before downloading, avoiding suspicious looking sites, and being wary of dodgy emails will help to significantly reduce your chances of getting in trouble.

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