Plugged in: digital danger

Hackers can access your device, your emails, your passwords and even your money with the click of a link – here are some practical ways to stay safe in cyberspace.


Sarah O'Donovan

You probably know by now that the international prince who’s emailed you requesting a loan and promising to pay back double what he’s asking for is a scammer. You probably also know you shouldn’t click on that obnoxious pop-up ad that congratulates you on being the millionth site visitor and urges you to click and claim your prize.

We are becoming increasingly tech-savvy as the digital revolution cements itself as a part of our everyday lives. But unfortunately, so are hackers. They know we don’t fall for the same old tricks anymore so scammers and hackers are finding new and sophisticated methods to get into our computers. 

Why is this such a problem? If you sit firmly in the ‘I have nothing to hide’ camp, or you don’t care to over-complicate your logins and worry you’ll end up locking yourself out of your accounts needlessly, you could benefit from hearing the finer details of how hackers can attack you, your family and your business.  

A hacker who gets into your computer has access to a wealth of information – a lot of which you probably don’t even realise is stored there.  Consider your photos (which might not sound that threatening), your login details for bank accounts or apps that track location on a family member’s device. That’s right, a stranger on the internet can quickly and easily drain your funds and even find out where your children are if you leave yourself vulnerable enough.

If your emails get hacked it can prevent you from being able to send new emails or read existing ones. It can also leave you open for hackers to amend bank details on your invoices so they receive incoming payments from your clients – which often isn’t covered by insurance.

All of this can happen with the seemingly harmless click of a link. So what can you do to protect yourself? 

plugged in

A simple statement such as ‘I don’t like pineapple on my pizza!’ can take hackers up to a year and cost up to $107,000 to crack


Phishing emails

As a general rule of thumb you should never click on links that come in unexpected emails or from an unknown sender. These types of emails could be from a hacker who is ‘phishing’ for your personal details by taking you to a fake website where you will be required to input your username and password. 

  • Check the sender’s email address: does it look legitimate? Does the email address include the website domain name? Does it include random numbers and letters? For example ‘housing@hia.com.au’ comes directly from HIA’s domain, while an email such as ‘hiaaccounts@a4eh.com’ is an example of a spam address using a legitimate looking account username at the beginning to trick you into thinking it is from HIA. 
  • Go directly to the site: for example, if you receive an email asking you to verify your identity by clicking on the link, go to the company’s website and log in to see if you have any notifications on your account about verifying your identity. If you don’t, chances are what you received was a ‘phishing’ email – that is an email fishing for people’s details. 

If you’re waiting for documents from a client and they tell you they’re sending you a dropbox link, or you’ve requested a password reset link from an online account, the emails you receive from them are likely safe, though you should always exercise appropriate caution. But if you get an email out of the blue from an unknown email address about a matter you weren’t aware of, investigate further before clicking. 

Still unsure? Email the company directly to ask them if they contacted you. This will help you determine whether or not your account is at risk and also help the company determine if their systems have been compromised, prompting them to take action and preventing others from being hacked.


If you get an email out of the blue from an unknown email address about a matter you weren’t aware of, investigate further before clicking


When you’re online

  • Never click on pop-ups: find the small ‘x’ in the top (usually right-hand) corner to close them. Often, there will be a large button that says ‘close’ but clicking this takes you to another site and makes your computer vulnerable.  
  • Get an ad and pop-up blocker: you can install simple versions as an add-on to your web browser by searching ‘Chrome/Firefox/Safari pop-up blocker’. You can usually pause and disable these for trusted sites. 
  • Never give out personal information on unknown sites: always triple-check the legitimacy of the site you’re using if it requires personal information. It never hurts to do a quick online search for customer reviews of the site you’re using to check if people have been scammed before by the site. 

The best way to protect yourself is to be proactive, rather than reacting after you’ve been targeted when your information has already been harvested. Using suitable passwords is essential for your safety as well as that of your business. 

plugged in

When it comes to employees using systems in your business, everyone must have their own password

Creating and protecting your passwords

  • Delete stored passwords and disable autofill logins on your internet browser via the settings. Doing this is quick and easy but the process varies between browsers; search for your internet browser name plus ‘disable autofill passwords’ to find the steps. Deleting stored passwords ensures that if hackers do get into your account they won’t automatically get access to all of your online accounts. 
  • Use a complex password which includes numbers, characters, and upper and lower case letters. This makes it much harder for someone to guess your password and makes it much more difficult and time-consuming for a program to decipher it. A simple statement such as ‘I don’t like pineapple on my pizza!’ can take hackers up to a year and cost up to $107,000 to crack because it has spaces, an apostrophe and exclamation point (symbols), an uppercase letter, and 35 characters in total. 
  • When it comes to employees using systems in your business, everyone must have their own password and you should never use the same password across sites. This means everyone has their own account with individual (and different) passwords for things such as project management software, email, accounting software and so on. 
  • Never keep passwords written down in a book by your desk, in your phone notes, in your contacts, or anywhere else a hacker could easily find them once they’ve got access to your device. Doing this is the equivalent to handing over a set of keys for your safety deposit box, your car and your business to a burglar who’s just broken into your home.

Set the right example for your employees by taking security seriously. 

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Digital Champions

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