Cybercrime is evolving — this is how a cybersecurity expert advises you to stay safe

Paul Haskell-Dowland has been in the cybersecurity education and research field for two decades — and he’s on a mission to teach the rest of us how to stay safe online.

It is an important job for the Professor of Cyber ​​Security Practice at Edith Cowan University.

The cost of cybercrime in Australia is incredibly high, although the figure is likely even higher than the reported data suggests.

Cyber ​​criminals operate in highly sophisticated environments.(Supplied: Paul Haskell-Dowland)

“It was estimated [a couple of years ago] that the global cost of cybercrime… would reach the $1 trillion mark, and I believe it is past that,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to get an accurate indication of these numbers because so much of the cybercrime goes unreported.”

Professor Haskell-Dowland, who is also an Associate Dean for Computing and Security, said that for many people their only insight into the world of cybercrime was what was portrayed in the media in films like Hackers and even the Diehard franchise.

“If we go back a few years and think about the Hollywood impression of cybersecurity, it was criminals in darkened rooms, sitting behind a keyboard, usually in a hoodie, and tapping on a computer and hacking into systems,” he said.

“We’ve had that glamorous view of cybercrime or cybersecurity for many, many years.”

Criminals are getting more sophisticated

Professor Haskell-Dowland said this view was not entirely accurate and that in reality cyber threats come from much more organized operations, which are “incredibly well equipped”.

“This is a global network of cybercriminals engaged in very significant crime,” he said.

“We’ve seen cybercriminal groups that are incredibly well-organized, reporting profits of hundreds of millions of dollars…so they’re competing with large multinational corporations.”

With this high level of sophistication, individuals became increasingly susceptible to attack.

A white screen filled with computer code.
Cyber ​​crime is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar industry.(Supplied: Paul Haskell-Dowland)

“It doesn’t just target one person, it can target 100,000 people with just a mouse click, or a few keystrokes,” said Professor Haskell-Dowland.

He said there are a range of ways in which individuals can be compromised by this type of activity.

“Sometimes it’s things like scams, but we also hear about things like ransomware, where people’s computers are taken over and their data or files are stolen or encrypted in a way that prevents them from accessing it, then forced fines pay to recover that data,” he said.

“In recent years, identity theft has been something that has set off alarm bells and people often see things like card skimming being a problem.”

How to protect yourself?

Professor Haskell-Dowland said there are several relatively simple ways individuals can protect themselves from cybercriminals.

He said the first dealt with the “boring topic” of their password practices, which he said was paramount.

A man in a suit giving a lecture is holding a ridiculously long piece of paper with a password of random letters and numbers.
Professor Haskell-Dowland says you should never use the same password for multiple accounts.(Supplied: Paul Haskell-Dowland)

“People find a password that meets the criteria and then reuse them across multiple systems, and that would be fine if all the systems they used were secure and never compromised,” he said.

“Unfortunately, all it takes is for the weakest of those systems to be compromised and that one password you thought was secure is now in the public domain, it’s publicly available.”

Professor Haskell-Dowland, who personally has more than 500 passwords, recommends that passwords are not only unique to each site, but also stored securely.

“I use a password manager to make sure they are all stored securely,” he said.

“Even a notepad with all those passwords locked in a drawer at home is still better than having the same password on every single system.”

Professor Haskell-Dowland also suggested updating all systems and backing up data.

“Always apply updates to … every device you use, including your mobile phone … to ensure that the cybercriminals don’t get an easy foothold in your system,” he said.

“Make sure you have a copy of all important data…so you don’t lose everything in case you get an attack, maybe some malicious software on a computer.”

Goals go beyond the individual

Professor Haskell-Dowland said it wasn’t just individuals who were susceptible to cybercrime. It also had the potential to be used as a hugely disruptive war strategy.

“We could talk about the systems that control electricity, the systems that control water,” he said.

“The things we depend on for our daily lives… are often computer controlled.

“If you’re an adversary and you want to attack a country, it’s much easier to attack the infrastructure through digital means than, say, launching a missile to try to target a power plant.”

A post-it is pasted on a computer with a password on it.
Professor Haskell-Dowland says that unfortunately many people still write down their passwords and leave them in obvious places.(Supplied: Paul Haskell-Dowland)

But despite the enormous risks cybercrime poses, Professor Haskell-Dowland said we shouldn’t get carried away with panic.

“Cybercrime issues are significant and growing, but so is the defensive side – an enormous amount of time, effort and money is spent defending the nation and defending the individual,” he said.

“The reality is that most cybercriminals are still very lazy in their perspective and they will go for the easiest targets, so making yourself that little bit harder to be a victim means they just move on to easier and easier targets. “

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