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Reduce the risk of being hacked and avoid online traps

Reduce the risk of being hacked and avoid online traps.{ } (WWMT Jason Heeres)

Every click of a computer mouse and tap of our finger on our smartphones is putting us at risk of being hacked and more than ever, consumers are realizing the importance of cyber security and protecting themselves online.

Even ethical hackers will admit, they are not immune to the schemes of the bad guys, but they do say that avoiding the traps hackers set is actually very easy. It’s a matter of being security conscious and assuming the unknown is hostile.

The underground world of hackers seems like a terrifying place. Men and women huddled around computers, breaking through firewalls, passwords, and security protocol to access our information.

However, the men and women attending the 2017 GrrCon security event in Grand Rapids aren’t those kind of hackers, they are “ethical hackers”. They are the heroes who are outsmarting the bad guys.

“Every one of these people deserves a high five,” said GrrCon founder Christopher Payne. “These are the people that protect your data, protect your private information that you don’t want out there.”

Payne is a cyber security expert. He said the ethical hacking and collaboration that happens at GrrCon is key to staying ahead of the ever changing security landscape.

Newschannel 3’s Christine VanTimmeren asked Payne about the most common way businesses and individuals are hacked. His answer is, “phishing emails”.

“So they send an employee an email with a link in it. It fools them to click on it, then runs malicious software,” Payne said. “Some of [the hackers] are really good. They take time. They'll get the real logos. They'll get real emails and copy them word for word.”

The natural inclination of humans to trust emails that look safe is what hackers count on.

Payne said, “All it takes is one mental error. Click on the wrong thing and it’s over.”

Another way consumers are targeted is through Wi-Fi networks.

Don’t assume your favorite coffee shop’s Wi-Fi is secure, and Payne said don’t ever do banking or other sensitive work on a public network.

“You don’t know that network. You don’t know who’s on it. You don’t know who’s watching it. You don’t even know who set it up,” he said.

Finally, experts say the importance of using complex passwords and changing them regularly cannot be overstated.

Payne said, honestly, if you do anything to protect yourself, doing just these two things would force hackers to find a new avenue.

“If people could just be more cautious of what they click on and then don't reuse the same password over and over again, we'd be way ahead,” he said.

Security experts also warn people about phishing scams through text message.

If you receive a text from a number you don’t recognize that has a link or phone number in the message, do not click on the link and do not call the number. If someone legitimate needs to get a hold of you for something important, they’ll find alternative ways to do so.

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