By Frances O’Rourke, KeyBank Capital Region Market President
In recent years, we have witnessed a swift transformation as more and more of our finances have been brought online. Growth in digital banking accelerated during the COVID-19 lockdowns out of necessity—and with this added convenience comes a new set of challenges related to cybersecurity risk. With more at stake, criminals are becoming more and more crafty in their approach to accessing our information.
The ongoing war being waged in Eastern Europe has also raised a new set of questions regarding the influence of state-actors in cyber-attacks, and whether we should be thinking about risk differently in these contexts.
The most important psychological principal of cybercrime is human engineering, or the idea that criminals prey on fear and basic human empathy to elicit an emotional response to get us to act. This is why many criminals impersonate charities requesting donations, a family member in need or a boss requesting a favor – people are generally less skeptical of organizations claiming to do good, and more willing to go out of their way for a person of authority.
This background helps explain why phishing attacks are the most prevalent ransomware delivery method, since the risk is minimal and the reward can be immense if the right person clicks through to a malicious link, opens a corrupted file or discloses some key component of their personal information. A ransomware attack of this kind is particularly deadly, because one employee could theoretically open up their entire corporate network to the attacker. This was the case when Colonial Pipeline fell victim to a ransomware attack last year, when the criminals were able to access their network by stealing one password. What this tells us is to always stop before clicking a link to ask yourself, “Is this request in line with what this person has asked of me in the past?”
Despite Russia’s invasion and the threats made against the West, data from February shows that nearly three quarters (73%) of current security events are related to cybercrime, compared to the 7% of events related to cyber warfare. During this period, there were 16 events targeting finance and insurance, and only one was an act of warfare. All this to say, financially motivated crime is still the most prevalent driver of cyber-attacks – and the steps needed to defend against them are consistent, irrespective of whether the attack is financially or politically motivated.
The uncertainty of the past few years has taught us the importance taking precaution and prioritizing preparedness, and the same outlook should be applied to cybersecurity. I recommend taking the following steps to limit the likelihood of falling victim to an attack:
- Strengthen Passwords – It goes without saying that using the same password across many accounts would create a major security risk if criminals were to get ahold of it. In addition to employing unique passwords, using longer passphrases is even better. Sequences longer than 15 characters, with very specific words, characters and spaces make it significantly more challenging for criminals to guess. For help managing different passwords/passphrases, you can use a password manager. They are designed to store credentials for you in a secure place. Then, when you visit a website or open an app where you need to log in, the password manager will automatically fill in your credentials for you. Thus, saving you from having to remember your various passwords.
- Set-Up Multifactor Authentication – You’ve likely experienced using multifactor authentication to access your company’s network, but it is equally important for protecting your personal accounts. Setting it up requires you provide two or more verification factors to access an account – this includes something you know (i.e. password), things you have in your possession (i.e. smartphone), or a personal signifying feature (i.e. fingerprint biometrics). The latter two factors present a much greater challenge to criminals, even if they happen to have your password on hand.
- Update Your Software – While it sounds simple, updating your computer software as security patches are rolled out is a very easy but important way to stave off cyber threats. When software updates are pushed through, the details about software vulnerabilities are typically disclosed, and criminals can leverage these identified weaknesses to target victims that may not have updated their software yet.
- Connect to the Internet Safely – While you shouldn’t second-guess connecting to your home internet, accessing the web from public Wi-Fi networks in parks, airports and cafes can present a security risk, as it would be difficult to verify how secure the connection is. If possible, avoid using these networks, especially if what you need to do involving accessing sensitive information like checking a bank account.
- Leverage Security Tools – Many tools have been developed in recent years to assist in prioritizing cybersecurity as more and more important information is held online. Browser reputation tools like Web of Trust, for example, are plug-ins that alert you to the expected safety of each website that populates in a browser search. Likewise, alternative browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Brave Browser have less exposed security vulnerabilities than more commonly used browsers like Google Chrome and are able to promote privacy by limiting data mining.
As digital finance continues to evolve and new technologies emerge to simplify our financial lives, practicing regular cybersecurity “hygiene” to protect our information and assets will ensure bad actors won’t succeed.
Frances O’Rourke is KeyBank Capital Region Market President. She can be reached at 518-257-8733 or [email protected]. Any opinions, projections, or recommendations contained herein are subject to change without notice and are not intended as individual investment advice. This material is presented for informational purposes only and should not be construed as individual tax or financial advice. KeyBank does not provide legal advice.
How to Earn Cash Back on Your Everyday Expenses
If you already have a cashback credit card, then you know how valuable the rewards can be. But do you know how to earn cash back on your everyday expenses? If you use automatic payments for your basic expenses, or if you’ve been paying them with a debit card or a credit card that doesn’t earn you rewards, consider switching them to your cashback credit card. It’s a simple way to earn extra money to put toward your financial goals.
Here are six everyday expenses you can pay with a cashback credit card:
You can earn extra money each month by simply paying your utility bills — from gas and electric to water and internet. Set up automatic payments with your cashback card and watch the rewards roll in while avoiding late fees. Keep in mind that some utilities charge convenience fees for paying your bill via credit card. Be sure that the rewards you earn offset any of the fees you might be charged.
Gas for Your Car
Instead of using a credit or debit card that doesn’t offer rewards, use your cashback card at the pump to cut back on your gas spending. Look into increasing your savings by combining your card’s cash back rewards with grocery store fuel points.
Trips to the Grocery Store
If you’re wondering how to earn cash back on everyday expenses, don’t forget your trips to the grocery store. You can even stack savings and lower your grocery bills by combining cashback card benefits with grocery store loyalty card savings and/or digital coupons.
Your Family Phone Plan
Consider paying your cell phone bill with your cashback card so that you can reap more rewards. Plus, thanks to Mastercard’s new cell phone insurance program, if you use a cashback card to pay your cell phone bill, you’ll get the extra perk of phone insurance. Keep in mind this is a perk specific to a World Mastercard like the Key Cashback Credit Card; ensure that your Mastercard is included in the program. The program also covers you if your phone gets stolen or damaged, with up to $1,000 in coverage per year.
Your Gym Membership
Why not get rewarded for staying fit by paying your gym membership with a cashback card? It’s a calorie-free way to reward yourself for showing up and doing the work.
Anything you buy each month can be a great way to earn additional cashback. Don’t forget to review your expenses for items such as meal delivery services, music subscriptions, and all of your streaming network charges that could be earning you more cash back rewards.
When you use a cashback credit card for your everyday purchases, you can earn valuable cash rewards on purchases you would have made anyway. A good way to protect your credit and save on interest charges is to pay your credit card bill in full each month. By doing so, you’ll boost your reward earnings while keeping your credit in tip-top shape.