Unless you were living under a rock this week (and maybe even then), you’ve heard about the recent data breach affecting the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
The hack involved personnel files relating to 4 million current and former members of the federal government. In other words, about one percent of the entire US population. It affected nearly every single federal agency, exposing people’s names, addresses, social security numbers, job details, training information, and more.
This was one very big hack indeed. It shows that the threat posed by hackers is increasing every day. It shows that everyone needs to take online security seriously. It also shows that all of us could be victims, and this means all of us must be proactive in protecting ourselves.
This hack was not like other hacks. It didn’t aim to steal credit card data or personal banking information. The perpetrators aren’t threatening to publish intimate photos or reveal damaging personal emails. This attack was more sinister than all that.
The information that was obtained in this hack threatens national security. It could be used to impersonate government officials, identify covert agents, crack passwords or enable access to confidential government systems. Experts say it is a case of cyber espionage, and that makes the stakes very high indeed.
So what can you do?
This was a zero-day attack that took advantage of a vulnerability that had not been known previously. The hackers used sophisticated software that went undetected for months, and used different signatures to avoid detection. Even the government’s own multibillion-dollar intrusion detection and prevention system wasn’t able to detect the hack in time to stop it.
This high level of sophistication shows the importance of ensuring that the protection you use for your own computer is sophisticated, too. Your antivirus doesn’t just need to block viruses, worms and other forms of malicious software. It also needs to be able to combat zero-day attacks such as this one.
Such protection is known as sandboxing, and it involves inspecting and running files in a protected environment in order to ensure that they don’t pose a risk to your computer. At ZoneAlarm, this feature is known as Threat Emulation, and it’s part of ZoneAlarm Extreme Security.
In an interview on CNN, online security veteran Hemu Nigam stressed the importance of updating your software. Updates matter because that’s how software protects itself against newly discovered viruses and malware.
When you delay an update, you could be delaying the installation of an important patch. Such patches could improve performance or compatibility, but they could also protect you against potential hacks and attacks. So if you’re asked, always choose to Update and always choose to do it Now (not later!).
Though it’s nice to think that your employer, bank, or credit card company is protecting your identity, the ultimate responsibility lies with you. Because the protection offered by your employer, bank, or credit card company is only as secure as its weakest link. If the protection isn’t good enough to block hackers, your private information could be exposed. Here’s how you can be proactive in protecting yourself online:
If you think your personal data may have been compromised through this hack, go to the Office of Personnel Management’s website at https://www.csid.com/opm/ or visit their Facebook page.
Following this hack, has your perception of online safety changed?