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Cybercrime: A billion-dollar industry

A recent Norton study shows online crimes are on the rise, but fewer than half of Internet users are protecting themselves.

Jen Weigel

September 20, 2011

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Are you protecting yourself from getting hacked? Think you're not at risk? According to a recent Norton cybercrime report, 431 million adults in 24 countries experienced some type of cybercrime over the past year, which is up 3 percent from the 2010 study. (The top three cybercrimes, according to the study, are viruses or malware, online credit card fraud, and phishing — or e-mail scams.) In the United States, that comes to 141 victims per minute.

"Our study found over 41 percent of us don't have software security," said Helen Malani, Norton's consumer cybercrime expert. "There's a general apathy about it—a disconnect. Three times as many people have been the victim of online crimes, but yet they are more afraid that they will be robbed on the street."

According to the study, over the past year the United States' total bill for cybercrime topped $139 billion.

"We were astounded by the costs in terms of cash lost," Malani said. "The number came to more than $388 billion globally. That's more than the illegal drugs market in heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Cybercrime is an illegal underground economy and it needs to be taken seriously."

Men are more at risk than women, Malani said, because the adult sites they frequent are more susceptible to cybercrimes. (The Norton report says men are four times more likely than women to view adult content online, and they are twice as likely to visit gambling sites.) Another concern, she said, is the rise in cybercrimes from our mobile devices.

"Mobile crimes are up 10 percent globally," Malani said. "And if you are male, a millennial and mobile, you are the most at risk. Men spend more time online than women. They talk to more strangers online. They visit sites that are more risky, like gaming or adult sites. And the millennials use social networks more often so that is fertile ground for spreading malware."

Here are some of Malani's tips for protecting yourself from cybercrime.

Don't ignore software updates. "Many times the notice for an update will pop up on your computer screen, and people close it out and never go back to it," she said. "It won't take that long, and if you keep putting it off, you could be putting yourself at risk."

Don't share too much onTwitter or Facebook. "Don't say the names of your pets or your kids if those are what you use as your passwords," Malani said. "We do leave the breadcrumbs of information about us online without even thinking about it."

Get creative with your passwords and change them frequently. Instead of a dictionary word or a real name, Malani suggested using an acronym of a phrase; IL2G2S could stand for 'I love to go shopping', for example. And be sure to change the passwords often.

"Also, consider answering the security questions with fake answers," she said. "So instead of giving the real name of your pet or child, pick something that's totally false."

Get an app for your mobile device that protects your data. Malani said only 20 percent of those accessing the Internet from their mobile devices have installed the most up-to-date mobile security.

"There are apps that wipe out your personal data if your phone is lost, or can lock your phone remotely," she said. "Having these can definitely put your mind at ease if your phone is lost or stolen."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel