Hack Me If You Can

Written by: Liz Knight
Do you know how to spot an online scam? Liz Knight, Head of Cyber Security at Theta, shares what you need to know to keep your family cyber safe and tells her top tips for talking to your kids about cyber security. 
It’s all too common these days to hear of someone being scammed out of their life savings, and it seems like the TV News reports a new cyber attack every night. If it feels to you like these attacks are getting closer to home – they are! Our government security agency (CertNZ) shared that nearly 2000 cyber incidents were reported by Kiwis in just the last three months (March to June 2023), and these victims lost over $4.2 million as a result.


The power of good passwords

You can take some simple steps to keep safe online, starting with your passwords – they need to be long, strong and unique. By using a combination of letters, numbers, special characters and random phrases, they will be much harder to crack. It’s really important to use a different password for each online account you create so that if your password is compromised, the hacker only has access to that one site, making it harder for them to access your other accounts. It’s recommended to store your passwords safely in a password manager app (like ‘BitWarden’ or ‘Keeper’). You can also check sites like Have I Been Pwned to find out whether your accounts have already been compromised in a data breach – if you discover they have, make sure you change your passwords.


Keep apps up to date

Another way you can reduce your chances of being hacked is by keeping your applications updated to the latest version. Updates contain fixes for any weaknesses found in applications that make them easier to break into. More recently, there’s been a push for application developers to make their apps ‘secure by design’ and ‘secure by default’, so hopefully, we’ll see more applications that have automatic updates turned on by default. In the meantime, you’ll need to manually check that auto updates are enabled for your browser, phone and other apps.


Trust your gut

Most people who have been scammed say the same thing: they knew that something ‘wasn’t right’, that they had a feeling something was ‘off’, but they just didn’t pay close attention to the feeling at the time and ended up losing their hard-earned money. That ‘sixth sense’ you get when reading a strange, unexpected email or browsing a scam website that doesn’t look quite right is an ever-important warning signal to stop before clicking, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence and deepfakes, which are becoming more sophisticated and are increasingly prevalent tools used in cyber attacks and scams.
With these new technologies on the rise, it’s only going to get harder to detect whether something is legitimate, so you really need to be on your guard. And that’s just your own accounts – cyber incidents can impact your family and friends, too.


Support your parents/grandparents

Post-war and boomer generations can be overly trusting and naïve and find it hard to identify whether something presented online is a scam or legitimate. You can help protect them by instilling a healthy dose of paranoia around their online activities and establishing an agreement that if they are unsure about an email, an offer or a message, they check with you before signing up, clicking or calling back. It offers a quick, easy and safe option to help them navigate their online world.


Keep your kids safe

Most children these days have access to a phone or a tablet and are using the internet at a young age, so it’s important we talk to them about how to stay safe online and teach them about the risks of using the internet. For younger kids, the conversations should be focused on teaching them not all contacts can be trusted, not to click on messages and links from people they don’t know, and not to share personal information in chat rooms when they are playing online games. Helping them to understand basic concepts like privacy and choosing passwords that are hard to guess will help them become ‘cyber smart’.
Cyberbullying is a big concern and can have a devastating impact on our children, whether that be through rumours being spread online, posting embarrassing content or just generally mean and unkind communications. The approach to managing this is twofold: teaching them resilience so they can protect themselves from the harmful impacts of these incidents but also ensuring they’re not instigating these behaviours. 
For those with more tech-savvy teenagers, the concerns are more serious, with a recent increase in large-scale cyber attacks being instigated by what’s being termed ‘the youth of cyber crime’. There can be many reasons why teenagers get involved in cybercrime: they might be lured by the idea of doing something cool or forbidden, the potential to earn money, or inspired by social or political injustice. 
Cyber crimes can lead to fines, internet bans, and, in the more serious cases, jail. As parents, we need to help our teens understand the potential consequences of their online actions. Sharing stories and examples of incidents happening in the news can be a good way to initiate the conversation and highlight the risks.


And if you need help or support

There are thousands of cyber criminals worldwide whose sole focus is to get the next unexpecting person to click on their malicious link, fall for their scam, or let their guard down – any of us could be their next victim. Thankfully, there are more support options available to us than ever before. If you think you or a family member has fallen victim to a cyber attack, call the police and report it. You can also report incidents to Netsafe or CertNZ, and if you think money has been taken from your bank account, contact your bank for advice.
Liz Knight heads up the Cyber Security team at Theta, with global experience across industries including finance, technology, health, and telecommunications. She follows a practical, people-centric approach, encouraging others to adopt new best practices.

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