By Sarah Alexander
Amelia, a sophomore psychology major at Adelphi, spent the week in a panic, unable to access her Instagram account as she received notifications that someone was changing her email and then her password. When she regained access five days later, on October 3, she found she had lost followers and the hacker had DM’d close to 40 people from her account.
Amelia, who asked that her name be withheld, is not alone in falling victim to a hacker. CyberTalk.org, an organization that provides cyber security news and insights for executives, states that 2021 saw a 50 percent uptick in cyber attacks in comparison to 2020. According to financial services company Allianz, the increase in cyber attacks can be attributed to the shift towards remote work and virtual conferencing and the increased availability of digital data. As an increasing number of people work from home, they inevitably transfer data from business to personal devices making themselves more susceptible to cyber attacks.
Anthony Buonaspina, a cyber security expert at LI Tech Advisor in Babylon, agreed cyberattacks are on the rise and has gone down the “dark side” of hacking himself to better know how to prevent hackers. That’s how he learned to be wary of QR codes like those on parking meters and even on restaurant menus. “Hackers can hack these QR codes redirecting you for an instant to a website that cleans your information before bringing you to the correct venue,” he said.
But the biggest threat to college students, Buonaspina said, are phishing emails. Hackers can send out a million emails hoping that 4 percent will successfully infiltrate a system and spread malware. His claim is corroborated by CyberTalk.org which claims that “over 84% of all cyber-attacks were distributed via email in 2021…a drastic rise from 2019, when ‘only’ 64% of all cyber-attacks were sent via email.”
Cyber security expert Shaun Pleickhardt of Falcon Cyber Security located in Port Jefferson, called these phishing emails “social engineering attacks.” He said that by tricking people to perform an action—follow a link, enter credit card details, give away personal information, download a file or open an attachment—the hacker can infiltrate their computer network and wreak havoc.
Hacking is a lucrative enterprise, Buonaspina added, earning these criminals billions of dollars a year.
“They have buildings overseas that are dedicated just to hackers,” he said. “It’s what they do…attacking the United States, trying to infiltrate people’s bank accounts and steal their identities.”
Buonaspina said he worries for college students like Amelia because they lack awareness of simple security measures, and offered this advice:
Never shop online with a debit card as they draw money directly from your account. If a hacker steals from your account, it will be almost impossible to get your money back.
Add two-step identification, also known as multi-factor identification, to every account, be it your Amazon, bank or email account. This way you validate your identity on more than one device making it harder for hackers to infiltrate. Multifactor identification will ward off 99 percent of the problem, Buonaspina said.
Look at your digital footprint. Google your email address and delete any unnecessary information online about yourself. Hackers will use whatever they can find about you to spoof you, and the more information they have the more believable their scam will be.
Both Buonaspina and Pleickhardt believe the number one way of combating hackers is through awareness training. Educate yourself on what a phishing attempt looks like and what a scam phone call sounds like. “When in doubt, assume it’s a fake hack,” said Buonaspina.
Pleickhardt added, “Be careful of everything. Don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know. Be careful of social media. Be careful of clicking links in ads and downloading games, mobile games or games on the computer. Just be careful.”
Amelia was hacked and locked out of her Instagram account for almost a week after replying to what she thought was an old high school friend’s DM. Had she been aware of some common security threats and taken some simple precautions she may have avoided days of worry and embarrassment.
If you suspect you may have been hacked or have any other computer problem, contact Adelphi’s IT department located in Hagedorn Hall of Enterprise LL. You can email the email@example.com or call 516-877-3340. They are available to help you solve any computer issue during the following hours: Monday-Thursday, 7:30 am – 10 pm; Friday, 7:30 am - 6 pm; Saturday, 9 am - 6 pm and Sunday, 10 am - 6 pm.