Have you ever opened your computer to find all your files encrypted by ransomware? Or received a threatening email claiming hackers will leak your browser history unless you pay up? If you haven’t yet, you may become a victim of these increasingly common cyber extortion schemes. These digital shakedowns adversely affect individuals and organizations.
All it takes is clicking one bad link or having a weak, reused password suddenly compromised in a data breach. Before you panic, the good news is some thoughtful precautions can drastically reduce your risk. Implementing stronger authentication, and avoiding suspicious links or attachments go a long way.
This article sheds some light on the shadowy world of cyber extortion and concrete steps you can start taking today to protect yourself or your family from the next big wave of attacks.
Let’s get started!
What is Cyber Extortion?
Cyber extortion is a malicious practice where cybercriminals leverage various techniques to coerce individuals, businesses, or organizations into meeting their demands. This form of digital extortion encompasses a range of tactics, including ransomware attacks that encrypt valuable data, threats to expose sensitive information, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, or blackmail schemes.
Perpetrators exploit vulnerabilities in systems or manipulate human behavior to extract money, sensitive data, or other concessions. The motive behind cyber extortion can vary, but the common goal is to extort victims for financial gain or to cause reputational damage.
Best Practices to Prevent Cyber Extortion or Cyber Blackmailing
Here are a few fundamental preventive measures that can assist in safeguarding against such online attacks:
#1 Avoid Clicking Malicious Links
Cyber extortion often starts with someone clicking on a malicious link. The link might come in a tricky email made to look like an authentic mail. It could say something like “Your package is arriving” or “Reset your password now.” If you click the link, it secretly downloads software.
Hackers use that software to access or lock your computer. Then they threaten you to pay money to get your computer data back. The best way to avoid this is to not click on links in emails unless you are 100% sure who sent it. Check that the address is correct. Hover over the link to see if the address it’s going to looks suspicious. And never click on links telling you to take action fast or with deadlines. By being careful about what links you click, you can stop cyber extortion before it starts.
#2 Regularly Update OS and Software Applications
One of the most important ways to prevent cyber attacks of any kind is to regularly update all your software and applications. Developers constantly release patches to fix vulnerabilities that criminals exploit in their schemes. Failing to install these security updates promptly provides easy openings for hackers to infiltrate networks and devices.
Additionally, make sure to implement robust security solutions on all your Internet-connected technology, whether commercial antivirus programs on computers or built-in protections on routers and phones. Turn on automatic updates wherever possible so you don’t even have to think about it. Remember that effective security requires layered defense across software updates, firewalls, VPNs, malware protection, and more.
#3 Use Strong Passwords for Enhanced Security
Weak, reused passwords create vulnerabilities that cyber extortionists eagerly exploit. When a major company suffers a data breach, hacked password lists get sold on dark web criminal forums. Extortionists then try those username and password combinations on banking, email, social media, and other accounts. If you reuse passwords across accounts, a breach on one site leads to a catastrophe across your digital life. Protect yourself by using a unique, randomly generated long password for every account. A password manager makes this feasible.
Also enable multi-factor authentication everywhere possible, which requires accessing both your password and another device like your smartphone or security key.
#4 Rely on Offline Backups
Cyber extortionists often target irreplaceable data like personal photos, important documents, and financial records. By threatening permanent loss through encryption or removal, they create incredible pressure to pay ransoms. You can greatly reduce that leverage through consistent offline backups.
Make sure to regularly back up critical files onto an external hard drive or cloud storage not continuously connected to your primary devices.
#5 Use Cybersecurity Training
Ongoing education is critical for identifying and avoiding the latest cyber extortion tactics and threats. Cybercriminals constantly evolve their technology, malware, and social engineering techniques.
Security awareness training teaches employees and individuals to recognize phishing attempts, safe browsing habits, password policies, data protection, and reporting protocols. Invest time regularly in formal or informal training to keep your knowledge fresh.
#6 Maintain Cyber Insurance
Even if you follow excellent cybersecurity practices, there is still a chance of falling victim to an extortion attempt. Cyber insurance provides an added layer of protection through financial support in paying ransoms or recovery costs.
Policies differ, but may cover expenses related to investigation, negotiating with extortionists, ransom payments (although not recommended), temporary revenue loss, data recovery, legal fees, PR management, and increased cybersecurity upgrades post-attack. Ensure your policy has adequate extortion and ransomware coverage with a reputable provider.
#7 Limit Personal Information Shared Online
A key facet of many cyber extortion plots involves threatening to publicly release sensitive personal information illegally obtained from hacks or malware. The more embarrassing or damaging the information, the greater leverage extortionists have to demand high ransom payments. While eliminating your digital footprint is extremely difficult, you can take steps to limit the amount of personal information available to minimize potential exposure.
Carefully review the privacy settings on all social media profiles and restrict anything identifiable only to known contacts. Avoid oversharing personal stories online which could be pieced together by criminals in the future.
Protect your Online Privacy: Download and Install T9 Antivirus on your Windows PC
As part of limiting your digital footprint against potential extortion threats, take advantage of robust privacy tools like T9 Antivirus for PCs. T9 Antivirus provides all-in-one protection not just against viruses and malware, but also from cybercriminals targeting your data through spyware, tracking, and other illegal surveillance. It actively monitors activity across installed apps and network traffic to identify and block potential privacy intrusions.
The software also scrubs metadata revealing personal information and allows safe, encrypted browsing.
Download a free trial of T9 Antivirus to experience comprehensive protection against cyber extortion attempts that often begin with loss of control over your personal information through advanced monitoring solutions.
Cyber extortion is a threat that is unfortunately here to stay as hackers constantly find new ways to breach networks and data. Extortion schemes like ransomware and data theft are climbing steadily, inflicting major financial and emotional damage on all sizes of victims.
Stay vigilant against phishing attempts and report extortion acts when targeted. With a defense-in-depth approach and some vigilance, you can cut off most paths for extortionists before they even start down them.
And by following the right protocols, you can limit the fallout and avoid paying ransoms even in the event of an unfortunate successful attack. Stay updated on cyber extortion trends and don’t be paralyzed by fears – you can markedly reduce the risks through awareness and proactive precautions. Follow us on social media – Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.