You are under attack. If you have any Internet-enabled device - a computer, a smart phone, tablet or even a DVR or television - that device is vulnerable to cyberattacks. The impact on you may be barely noticeable or may be catastrophic. It depends on the security protections you have in place and the vulnerability of the device.
In 2012, the number of mobile Internet devices exceeded the number of people in the world. The number of Internet users approach 3 billion. Some of those users are not nice people, and they have the ability to attack every single device on the Internet from the comfort of their own homes. Tens of millions of new instances of attack codes are found every year. More than 9,000 malicious websites are found daily.
These websites can attack your computer just by viewing them, and more than half of them are legitimate websites that were attacked and had the malicious software installed by attackers. An increasing number of malicious emails are targeting high-level executives and senior managers, hoping to get access to corporate computing accounts.
If you don't protect your computer systems, if you think you are not vulnerable because you live in Idaho, if you put up websites or develop Internet software without paying attention to security, you will be successfully attacked. Your private or corporate information may be stolen. Your computer could be used to attack other computers or could just be shut down. You could be in violation of state or federal laws.
Last fall, the Massachusetts Ear and Eye Infirmary was fined $1.5 million for violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The infirmary had customer health records unprotected on a laptop that was stolen.
Yes, the victims of a crime were penalized, because they did not use due diligence to protect customer data. In January 2013, a North Idaho hospice was fined $50,000 for the loss of a laptop with records of 470 patients.
What can you do to protect yourself? There are some simple steps that will reduce your risk.
First, protect your personal information. Do not share personal information on social media sites or in response to an email request. You don't know who is really out there. Use strong passwords. For financial accounts use protection beyond just passwords or simple PINs.
Don't use the same passwords on general websites that you use with your work computers or personal financial accounts. Set privacy settings on social media and other websites so that you own your online presence.
Keep a clean machine. Keep your software up to date. Install security software on your computer. Allow your computer to automatically install patches and upgrades.
Protect every device that connects to the Internet. Put printers and DVRs and other devices inside a protected local network (behind a smart router with security enabled). Install security software on your tablets and smart phones. Plug and scan all external devices when you connect them to your computer.
Practice safe browsing. Stop and think before you click on a link in an email or on a web browser. When in doubt, throw it out. Be wary of "free" wi-fi hotspots; limit the type of business you conduct and adjust your security settings appropriately.
Lastly, keep up to date on good Internet practices and behavior. Safe for you means safer for all.