People often think that ‘it could never happen to me’ but cyber crime is on the rise and anyone can fall victim. The internet is used daily by more than 80% of adults to stay connected, communicate with family and friends, work, shop and do online banking.* On the other hand, the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that there were 1.6 million computer misuse incidents in the year ending June 2017.**
We spoke to people who had been hit by cyber crime and discovered how it affected them.
Hacked off – Jenny’s story
“I realised my account had been hacked and my password was compromised when I received a customer support email informing me someone in China had logged into my account. I changed my password, but when I turned on my laptop, it was locked and I needed a four-digit pin to access it. A message told me to contact a random email address to get it unlocked.
“I called the technical support helpline, who confirmed that someone had hacked my account, taking away my access by remotely locking all the devices connected to it.
“I was left without my devices, worried sick about what the hackers had accessed.
“The technician managed to let me back in, and luckily my data was still there. They were unable to tell me how the hackers had got my password, it still remains a mystery to me.
“This was a password I'd used elsewhere too, so I was obviously very concerned some of my other accounts could have been compromised. I used the same password for my PayPal account at the time, so I was worried they could steal my money too. I thought my passwords were secure at the time, but now I regularly change my passwords."
It’s really important to use a strong and separate password for your most important accounts – that way, if one is compromised, they can’t access your other accounts. Your email account is arguably the most important; think of how many accounts are associated with your email - shopping, flights, social media and more. If cyber criminals hack your email, by asking for a password reset for your other accounts they can get access and find out personal information such as your date of birth, address or bank details, leaving you vulnerable to criminals.
Losing everything – Clare’s story
“I was browsing the internet on my phone looking for a cheap holiday when I clicked a link, not paying much attention to the website I was on. I realised I’d unwittingly opened a malicious file hosted on the webpage, and my phone had become infected.
“A full-screen message appeared saying: ‘Your files are now encrypted, pay for encryption key.’ I didn’t want to pay, and I certainly didn’t want to give my bank details out to anyone.
“I tried to reset my phone and unfortunately lost everything on it – every photo, video and message I’d sent, which was really upsetting – automatic backups weren’t enabled and I hadn’t backed anything up. I just never thought about doing so. I will in future.”
Never click on suspicious links or attachments and remember to protect your most important data by backing it up using a hard drive or cloud-based storage system. This means in the event your device is compromised by ransomware, you’ll have a copy of irreplaceable things like photos and videos.
You should also make sure to always install the latest software and app updates for your devices. They often include security updates that can help keep your devices safe from these viruses and hackers, which could help you avoid the same fate.
The financial consequences of cyber crime are well known but we often ignore the personal cost and the impact of identity theft.
By gaining unauthorised access to your online accounts, hackers can steal significant amounts of money as well as personal data such as your photos, videos and messages - which can leave your reputation at risk and are impossible to replace. It’s not just you at risk either, malicious links could be sent to your friends and family.
Follow Cyber Aware’s simple advice - always ensure you use a strong and separate password for your email and install the latest software and app updates for all your devices.
*ONS Internet access – households and individuals: 2017 ** Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), June 2017