Almost every day you hear something on the national news or on the web about new security flaws, new hacks, new malware, and of course, new breaches. The most notorious to-date is the hack of Target’s network that led to the exposure of millions of Target customers’ credit card numbers. So who does this kind of thing? For the most part cybercrime originates from three types of hackers: People that do it to prove they have the skills, organized crime groups, and state sponsored hackers. While each has its own reason, all three pose a serious threat to your business, finances and identity.

I’m going to focus on the most common attack vectors (the means or paths of an attack) we see in our everyday business as IT service providers. I am going to assume you have a firewall, are using antivirus and anti-spam software, and are keeping your machines updated with security patches.Given that, let me start with spam/email phishing. We all hate spam. You’ve probably noticed that it runs in waves: it gets bad, it goes away or greatly reduces, and then it gets bad again, reduces again, and on and on. This is because anti-spam and anti-virus tools are largely reactive. When a new spamming technique is employed or a new piece of malware comes out, the anti-spam/virus/malware software companies begin analyzing the threat, determine the techniques, and then update their tools to stop or contain the threat. While this is all well, it does mean that there are times you are at risk and you need to know what to look for.

Don’t open emails claiming to be from the IRS about payments being rejected. Just delete them. The IRS does not communicate payment information by email, nor does it demand payment by email. If you follow one of the links in an “IRS” email, it will install a keystroke logger that gathers passwords and bank information and will lead to you or your business losing money and possibly your identity to a hacker. This also goes for emails from the FBI, . Don’t open the email; don’t even open them in the “preview” window of your email client. Delete them.

Next, you need to be aware of your web surfing habits. Message boards are often a vector for malware, as are pop-ups from websites. If you get a pop-up, don’t click the red X to close the window. Many times this is actually a part of the scam and when you click the X, you give the malware permission to install, which will bypass your antivirus. It’s inconvenient because it closes all of your tabs, but hitting the ALT-F4 key combination when you get a pop up will close the browser. If it asks if you are sure you want to close the program, hit the ALT-F4 combination again. If that does not do the trick, hit CTRL-ALT-DELETE, click on task manager when the screen changes, then go to either the “processes” or “programs” tab depending upon your Windows OS. Find your web browser (Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari, etc), highlight it and click “End task/ Process.” You may have to right click to see these options. This will close the program without executing any malicious code.

In general, always make sure you know who is sending you emails. If it’s from a friend, but the message seems strange - perhaps the subject line is not something they’d say, or it mentions a “great deal”, or it has weird misspellings, just delete the email. If it you want, start a new email and ask them if they sent that message to you. Odds are they didn’t, and they will appreciate knowing they need to change their email password. Then you can teach them what you’ve learned here!