In an era where technology and data reign supreme, cyber security is an absolute necessity — one that should be closely monitored around the clock.

While technology makes everything easily accessible, thereby simplifying the lives of consumers, it is a modern day asset that needs major protection at all times. Unfortunately, the smarter technology becomes, so too do cybercrimes. Cybersecurity is a practice that is widely used by companies to protect any internet-connected devices and services from outside interference and attacks from cybercriminals and hackers. These attacks come in the form of phishing scams, ransomware attacks, identity theft, data breaches and, in most cases, financial losses.

Therefore, in the age of technology, cybersecurity needs to be foremost on the agendas of companies that trade in data, as well as consumers who use the internet for whatever conveniences. This brings us to the usage of public WiFi, something companies constantly need to conscientise their consumers about.

Unsecured versus Secured Networks?

“At Uyandiswa, we encourage our contractors, in their respective industries, to ensure that they practise safe web browsing. The financial services and banking industries, in particular, need to understand that they must always be cautious of being at risk of cyberattacks,” urges Uyandiswa founder and CEO Amanda Dambuza.

The first rule of thumb when using public WiFi is to never assume that you are safe. Unsecured networks do not require any kind of password or authorisation to connect to — meaning there is no in-built protection to keep hackers at bay. Simply put, this places consumers’ information at risk of being stolen and used fraudulently. Very important to note is that unsecured WiFi networks should never be used to access banking apps and sites, personal information (email and social media accounts included), to shop online or leave your device unattended. In fact, experts advise against using unsecured networks because of the significant risk they pose.

With a secured network, on the other hand, agreeing to the legal terms, using a password or creating an account to sign in is compulsory. Even with the additional security features in place for secure browsing, consumers are still advised to exercise caution when using public WiFi.

Cybercrime On The Rise

According to the 2021 Cisco Cybersecurity Threat Trends Report, phishing attacks in their various forms made up 90% of all data infringements – overtaking their cybercrime siblings malware (a type of attack that disables or damages computers and computer systems), ransomware (a form of malware attack that blocks access to computer systems until a sum of money is paid) and spyware (another form of malware virus that secretly gathers information from your device without your knowledge and relays that back to the hacker). In 2023, phishing scams remain the biggest online security threat. The main challenge with phishing attacks is that companies and consumers alike are not always able to identify them instantly. Scammers work hard at making phishing scams as enticing as possible, and often adapt scams to mirror population trends, preferences and topics. Therefore in this regard, security awareness training should take top priority, something we urge Uyandiswa contractors to take seriously. Some of the most common modern day phishing scams include:

Email Phishing.

By far the most common and popular type of phishing scam in which tech-savvy cybercriminals go as far as creating fake websites (that often look identical to the real site) and send spam, email or text messages to lure consumers into sharing confidential information such as passwords, banking details, ID number etc. Once cybercriminals get access to this personal information, they use it to create fake accounts in a consumer’s name — and in most cases rack up debt and ruin one’s credit score, steal money and in worst case scenarios, even one’s identity.

How to avoid it: Scrutinise email correspondence for finer details such as scare tactics where emotional language is used, spelling mistakes on the URL or body of the email, the tone of the greeting and other customised information or desperate requests for confidential information. Furthermore, consumers are urged to always check the accuracy of their accounts and follow up on any inconsistencies – and to even go as far as calling the company to confirm the legitimacy of the email correspondence. Lastly, only share sensitive personal information on websites whose addresses start with ‘https’, followed by a lock at the bottom of the browser.

Social network account phishing.

This often comes via a friendship request, with the aim of overtaking the user’s accounts to gain their personal information and financial data.

How to avoid it: Avoid accepting friend requests from random profiles — and always use an alternative email or phone number for retrieving your account and a complicated pass­word selection (with two-factor authentication).

Phishing via streaming services.

Owing to the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, ShowMax, Apple TV and the likes, scammers now target these platforms via email phishing (a scam in which the user will be notified of a failed payment and lured into making the failed payment on a link provided by the scammers). Between January and December 2022, Netflix saw a 50% increase in this type of scam.

How to avoid it: Rather log into your account/app to verify your payment status instead of clicking on any links.

Trending topics.

Phishing scams also tend to piggyback on trending topics, knowing full well that those will be easier to draw the attention of those willing to donate to various plight campaigns.

How to avoid it: Only trust reputable charities. Most times, any talk of crypto­currency is usually a glaring red flag.

Smishing (also known as the ‘Hi Mum’ scam)

Here, cybercriminals leverage on emotion by sending text messages that start with “Hi Mum” from an unknown number claiming that there’s an emergency that involves your child or another loved one — and often requires financial rescuing of some sort.

How to avoid it: Parents are urged to think rationally before sending any money to an unknown number — and most importantly, to verify this information with your child/loved one.

Gaming phishing scams

The increase in free-to-play games that make their revenue through in-game purchases has contributed to the increase in the number of scams targeting gamers.

How to avoid it: Anything free on the internet is best avoided – and make it a point to educate children about these game-related scams.