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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Cyber Security: Not Just a Business Issue

Cyber security is a hot topic in the business world, but few people spend enough time thinking about personally. Unfortunately, this neglect shows. Millions of American computers are infected with viruses and spyware, and many users are totally unaware.

Assessing the Damage

Computer viruses, spyware, malware, and other infections aren’t issues the general public spends a lot of time thinking about. But it is something that the average household needs to be more aware of.

According to this infographic published by CloudTweaks, approximately 32 percent of computers worldwide are infected with some sort of malware – i.e. software intended to disable or damage a computer system in order to gain access to important data or files for the purpose of theft, fraud, or manipulation. 

While China and South Korea are the most highly infected countries, with more than 50 percent of computers affected in each nation, the U.S. isn’t in the clear. More than 30 percent of American households are infected at any given time.

While 24 million American households experience heavy spam on an annual basis, 16 million say they’ve had a serious virus within the past couple of years. Approximately 1 million households have lost money or had private accounts abused because of malware.

The total cost of these viruses to U.S. households? An estimated $4.55 billion per year.

Preventing Viruses and Infections 

Most of the news coverage regarding cyber security pertains to businesses failing to prevent attacks and data breaches that ultimately compromise consumer data. However, the general public arguably faces more self-inflicted damage than anything else.

To make things worse, many households try to deal with viruses and malware on their own. This often exacerbates the underlying issue and creates bigger problems. The better solution is to take the computer to a professional who understands the intricacies of dealing with these viruses and can remove it by the roots, rather than just dealing with the surface level symptoms. Below are how viruses should be tackled.

  1. Using a VPN on Public Wifi Networks

Public wifi hotspots are one of the easiest ways for cyber criminals to access your personal data. The most convenient way around this issue is to use a reputable VPN service, which will prevent access to your data from everyone else who is accessing the local network. 

  1. Install Anti-Virus Software

Every computer needs some sort of antivirus program set up as a first line of defense against viruses. Without it, your computer is vulnerable to all kinds of attacks and nasty infections.

There are plenty of free and paid anti-virus programs. There’s nothing wrong with the free ones, but make sure you do your research. Some viruses actually disguise themselves as anti-virus programs.

  1. Keep OS and Applications Up to Date

“Whether you are running Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, or any other OS, keep it up to date,” IT expert Brian Benton suggests. “OS developers are always issuing security patches that fix and plug security leaks. These patches will help to keep your system secure.”

On a related note, all anti-virus programs and computer software should be kept up to date as well. Older versions often contain loopholes and will leave you exposed.

  1. Avoid Opening Suspicious Emails

A favorite method of hackers and cyber criminals is to send phishing emails to people in which they encourage the recipient to click a link that takes them to a phony site. On this phony site, users are encouraged to provide personal or financial information.

Because these emails generally come from people you know, it’s easy to get duped. Avoid clicking any email that looks suspicious and always check the URL prior to clicking.

“Most e-mail programs show you the real target address of a link when you hover the mouse over the link within the message,” Redtail Technology explains. “Before you click a link, make sure to read the target address. If the email message appears to come from your bank, but the target address is just a meaningless series of numbers, do not click the link.”

  1. Maintain Smart Internet Surfing Habits

At the end of the day, people need to adopt smarter internet surfing habits. Anti-virus software can only protect you so much. If you want to avoid putting your computer in harm’s way, you have to be cognizant of your actions.

Don’t visit questionable websites. Never provide financial or personal information on a website that doesn’t check out. Check links before you click on them and enter websites manually whenever possible.

Proactive is the Best Approach

Most Americans don’t think about computer infections, viruses, and malware until they happen. By this point, there’s already something in the system and it’s going to take time, money, or both to get the problem cleaned up.

It’s going to take a group effort to reduce the problem of computer infections in this country. People must be more aware and proactive on an individual basis, through using a VPN or purchasing anti-spyware software, etc. Only then can we enjoy positive results.

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