‘Cyber attacks are constant:’ experts discuss the recent increase of computer dangers

Online+classes+are+a+common+class+choice+during+summer.

Khánh Nguyễn

Online classes are a common class choice during summer.

With the increase of computer usage through online learning and working from home during COVID-19, there are many dangers that people can face online that can put their information at risk.  

“Cyber attacks are constant and cyber criminals never stop,” Sergio Salinas Monroy, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at WSU said.  “You can lose access to  your online accounts, bank accounts, social media, or anything that requires a username and password.  Information that is stored on your computer can be stolen, encrypted, and sold for ransom.”

Monroy said that cyber attack complaints have increased by 400% during COVID-19, according to an FBI report.

“It’s not that anything has changed over the pandemic, but people are working from home and using their own devices that may not be as locked down as computers at work,” Monroy said.

John Jones, director of the Media Resources Center at WSU said that one of the most common scams through emails or texts sent by a scammer pretending to be a company that people recognize.  Clicking on the link can put people’s information at risk, especially if they provide login information.

Jones said that if someone gets one of these scams, they should report it to [email protected].  

“If an email doesn’t feel right, it’s good practice to go to that companies website and see if you can find the same information there.  It’s a good habit to get into,” Jones said.

Monroy said that if someone types in their username and password, they should immediately change all their logins.

If they end up giving out their social security number, they should contact their bank and contact the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov to find their next steps.

“When you are driving, you drive safely and reduce the risk of crashing by wearing a seatbelt.  In cyberspace, people need to wear their seatbelts,” Monroy said.

Monroy said that there are a few easy tips to follow to help keep information safe.  Using a password manager will help to create a unique password for every login, so if hackers obtain login information for one website they don’t have it for others.

He also recommends using two-factor authentication, which gives an additional string of numbers to use to login in.  He warns against using SMS messages for two-factor authentication because hackers can redirect the messages to their devices.

Keeping up-to-date backups of the data is also an important step.  If you get a virus, you can wipe everything off your computer and bring in the data from the backup and avoid paying ransom unnecessarily to hackers.

“Being able to restore your computer is really important,” Jones said.  “The Office 365 accounts come with a lot of storage for free through the university.  Even if you can’t access your personal computer, you can go to the university library or a public computer and access them anywhere.”

Monroy said that having devices automatically apply security updates is also vital.  Not doing this gives hackers a window of opportunity between updates.  

Jones said that computer safety is a thing people need to pay attention to and invest some time learning about.  WSU students have free access to LinkedIn learning, which is a repository of online learning.  They have courses such as ‘Learning Computer Security and Internet Safety’ along with many others available.

“That kind of training isn’t something that is usually offered as a course for people not majoring in computer science, so it’s a great way to get that kind of training,” Jones said.

Even with all of these dangers, Monroy said that technology is a valuable tool.  If video conferencing wasn’t available, the world would be in worse shape than it is now in staying connected and learning safely.  

“As with any technology, there are risks and we need to learn how to mitigate those … The more that people are aware, the easier it is to catch when someone is trying to scam you.  It’s very easy to stop it and all it takes it to be a little bit skeptical,” Monroy said.