What exactly is malware, and how can you safeguard against it?
You’ve heard the term. You’ve seen the warnings. You may have even been unlucky enough to experience an attack. But what exactly is malware, and what can you do to safeguard against it?
Malware: A Catch-All Term
Malware is an umbrella term for any type of malicious software. This can include anything from computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses (a malicious piece of software disguised as a legitimate program) to ransomware, spyware, adware or scareware.
Typically, anything that secretly works against the interests of a computer user can be classified as malware. Malware can infect almost any type of computer or digital device. Some but not all machines that are vulnerable to malware include: Windows computers, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Android devices and network servers. Viruses and worms are the most common types of malware, and both are spread by becoming embedded in executable software.
Why it Matters
Malware is used by hackers to gain access and pilfer the personal, financial, business or governmental data of unsuspecting individuals or organizations. Once this information is acquired, cybercriminals frequently seek to exhort money from their victims – either directly through ransoms (where the criminal blocks access to files or programs until the victim pays them money) or by engaging in identity theft.
Recent studies indicate that cybercrime is on the rise. A 2019 report revealed a 67 percent increase in security breaches over the past five years.[i] The cost of these attacks is truly staggering. According to the White House, “malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016.”[ii] The average cost of a data breach is $3.9 million according to IBM.[iii] While it may be tempting to think that only large multinationals are the targets of these attacks, 43 percent of breach victims were small or medium-sized businesses.[iv]
What Can be Done?
As with other industries, identity theft, fraud and other crimes are increasing throughout the insurance and financial services sectors. Still, there are numerous actions you can take to better safeguard your data.
A great first step is to purchase high-quality anti-virus software and install it across your devices. It is essential to purchase one from a well-known and trusted provider, and to have it consistently run scans on any machine that may be vulnerable.
You should diligently update both your operating systems (Mac/IOS, Windows, Android, etc.) and internet browsers (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge). Not only do these updates patch security holes, but they also better protect your data and offer enhanced features that can make your work life easier and more enjoyable.
When safeguarding your devices through the previous steps, it is always a good idea to back up your data and store it on an external hard drive where it will be retrievable in the future. By taking this precaution, you will ensure that you do not lose access to your most valuable data even if you are unlucky enough to experience a malware attack and have to consult a professional to repair your device.
Avoiding Phishing Scams and Ensuring Safe Title Transactions
One of the most common threats that occur during real estate transactions is a phishing scam, where criminals seek to gain access to nonpublic personal information (NPI), place malicious code on your device or convince you to change wiring instructions. To protect yourself from these scams, agents should be mindful of the following warning signs within a suspicious email:
- Poor spelling, grammar and generic greetings
- Requests for personal information
- An unusual sense of urgency
- Instructions to change wiring information
- Questionable-looking attachments or links that encourage a click.
Additionally, agents can reduce risk by transmitting data through encryption, using two-factor email authentications, maintaining a contact log for all transaction participants, eliminating the need for urgency and performing a risk assessment to identify security gaps.
Commit to Safety
Considering the fiduciary responsibilities that title agents possess, data security is of the utmost importance. Of course, no system is foolproof, but by knowing the risks and taking necessary precautions, agents can make significant progress toward protecting the integrity of their clients’ transactions.
Take charge of your devices and accounts to get your digital house in order.
We have all been there at some point: Your desktop has become a cluttered mess. Your computer is overrun with outdated or unnecessary software. Even your update notifications have become unmanageable.
If you can relate to this, it is probably time to better organize your digital presence. By taking advantage of the following steps, you will instill your digital life with a greater sense of control and order, lowering your anxiety and maximizing your productivity as a result.
The Power of Folders
The first thing to do is to tackle your cluttered desktop. Start by setting a hard limit on top-level folders and then stick to that limit for each tier of your digital folder tree. Pick a number large enough to accurately encompass the various ways in which you use your device but small enough to instill your machine with a sense of order. More than likely, this number will need to be larger than five, but you should strive to keep your final number under ten. Like any goal, the numerical limit you select should force discipline but ultimately remain feasible.
For this blog, we will use the number seven, splitting the difference. Begin by establishing your top-level system of seven folders on your desktop. Think about how you can segment the different materials on your computer in the most generalized way possible. Perhaps consider a file for photos, a file for client documents, a file for any personal items and so on. After that, navigate inside each folder and once again create no more than seven sub-folders to further organize all files that you have lumped together into your top-level folders. Repeat this step for as many levels as you need.
Throw Out and Back-Up
Perhaps the most satisfying step in any organizing project is throwing out items you no longer need. First off, empty your recycling bin. Then ask some hard questions about each file you have. Is this something you need on your hard drive? Are you holding onto it for any legitimate purpose – whether it is professional, personal or even sentimental? The trick is to balance scrutiny and regret. Throw out everything you can, but if you have doubts about an item, keep it. Just make sure it is properly filed away in your newly-established folder system.
You can also assess your software programs and internet browsers. Uninstall any programs you no longer use to free up space on your machine. Delete your browser’s cookies and temporary files. You can also deploy a disk cleaning software application, but be sure to select one with good reviews.
After you have arranged your files and deleted as much as you can, backup everything that remains on your machine. There are several approaches you can take here. You can store your data on the Cloud with end-to-end encryption. You could save it to an external hard drive. You could even burn your data to a CD. Fortunately, mobile devices already support automatic data backups, and there are numerous software options out there that are cost-effective and relatively easy to use.
Enable Alerts and Updates
To ensure that you are staying organized in your digital life, you should enable automatic software updates. The endless update notifications we receive these days can be annoying and cumbersome – but the updating process is an incredibly important step to ensuring your online security. By implementing automatic updates, you will kill two birds with one stone. You will reduce the amount of manual updating you have to do and likely cut down on the volume of notifications you receive.
Tracking activity in your important digital accounts is another key piece of digital organization. You should consider activating alerts on your banking accounts in particular. Many banks offer a wide range of alert services that can help you manage your money. From low balance and unusual purchase alerts to notifications about large ATM withdrawals, it makes a lot of sense to take advantage of these free services.
These days, we all spend a considerable portion of our time online conducting large amounts of personal and professional business. Understandably, our devices can get disorganized. But by following these steps, you can reduce clutter, streamline processes and finally reclaim a measure of control over your digital life.
Are you ready?
Can you spot when you’re being phished? One of the first steps is fully understanding what phishing is. Unfortunately, it’s not as fun as heading to the stream with your waders. Phishing can take place via phone call, text, or email, but the latter is the most common place. The attacker will pose as a legitimate institution in an attempt to get secure information from their target. Some examples include those spam calls you receive from the “IRS” robot asking for your social security number.
Over email, things can get a little bit more malicious. It’s common sense to know that an unsolicited robotic voice asking for your social security number isn’t legitimate. However, what happens when you receive an email with a link that you wouldn’t usually give a second glance to? Cyber attackers rely on that lack of attention to target vulnerable users. Here are some ways to tell if the email you’ve received is a phishing email:
- Remember that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Those flashy designs advertising expensive items for free could (and in all likelihood will) result in identity theft.
- Be mindful of emails from unknown senders insisting that you act urgently. The attacker is trying to pressure you into acting without thinking.
- Watch out for unknown hyperlinks and attachments. They’ve gained popularity over recent years. They avoid giving you all the details in the email to avoid looking immediately suspicious and urge you to click on the link for more information. Never click on a link from an unknown or untrustworthy sender.
All of that might seem like a lot, but knowing what to look out for is the first step in protecting yourself from cyber-attacks. After a while it will all become like second nature. There are also plenty of other preventative steps that you can take to ensure that you and your inbox are protected.
Spam filters can go a long way toward stopping malicious content from getting to your inbox at all, and you can update your browser’s security settings to block fraudulent websites from opening at all. Setting up two-factor authentication with your financial institutions and any website where your bank data may be stored can help protect you as well.
Jigsaw and Google have partnered to keep an up-to-date phishing quiz to see if you’re ready to identify phishing attempts that may come your way. You can take it here.