Five ways to protect yourself from cyberattacks

A UAB criminal justice researcher shares tips to prevent online identity theft.
Written by: Eric-Lamar Burts
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

INSIDE GettyImages 1297832671A UAB criminal justice researcher shares tips to prevent online identity theft.  When it comes to hackers’ attempting to access unauthorized information stored on computers or networks, anyone is susceptible. According to Cybint, 95 percent of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error.

“Everywhere you look, you see the media talking about recent cyberattacks,” said the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Jeffery Walker, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Criminal Justice. “While most of these do not target individuals, you may be a target if you are a part of a company.”

Walker shares five tips individuals and companies can take to prevent a cyberattack.  

Watch out for clickbait

Often, people fall prey to phishing attacks –– fraudulent communications that pose as reputable sources –– to steal sensitive data, such as bank information, or to install malicious malware on the user’s electronic device.   

Walker says not to click on links sent from unknown contacts or even those from a known contact that seem suspicious.

Always back up your hard drive

On average, only 5 percent of companies’ folders are properly protected. Different computer systems have several steps to back up their system. 

“You never know when you accidentally could get hacked,” Walker said. “It would help if you had recent backups to restore your system if it gets corrupted.”

To learn more about UAB’s digital forensics program, contact Martha Earwood, the undergraduate program director, or click this link.


Have a non-connected backup system

According to Walker, most ransomware programs are designed to follow automatic backups. Despite the convenience of cloud storage, he recommends that users buy an external hard drive. 

“Plug it into your system, back up to that hard drive, and disconnect,” Walker said. “Do this every week or so. If you keep it connected, it is still vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

Use a virtual private network

A virtual private network encrypts users’ internet traffic and hides online identity. VPNs make it more difficult for third parties to track online activity and steal data.

“If you are sure your home system is secure, you can probably not use a VPN,” Walker said. “Many streaming videos will not work with a VPN because it cannot verify your location.” 

Walker says users should not use a public network that does not require login. If you do, make sure you have a secure VPN.

Use a strong password

It is best to use a password program that creates meaningless language passwords or nonsense. Do not use the same password for multiple sites.