How to protect yourself from a Russian cyberattack

This week President Biden warned Russian cyberattacks are coming. According to the experts we spoke with, there are four basic categories to be concerned about.

  1. The electrical grid that will affect the supply chain, gas, and electricity
  2. Our banking system and concerns of wiping out the stock market or stopping access to ATMs
  3. Our municipalities. Could Russia somehow hack our water supply for example?
  4. Corporations or even you the consumer who has been seeing increased fraudulent emails

Jane S. Hoffman, who served as Commissioner of Consumer Affairs for New York City, now a Senior Fellow at Harvard, spent the last three years studying cyber attacks for her book Your Data, Their Billions: Unraveling and Simplifying Big Tech.  She says with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now is as important a time as ever to be vigilant.

“If you are thinking from Vladimir Putin’s lens, how can I hurt the US the most? It would be to affect our power grid,” said Hoffman. “To affect our Wi-Fi or to affect the lives of daily Americans.”

“If Russia attacks our critical infrastructure if they go after the electrical grid, that means no power to your homes,” said CEO of ProtectNowLLC.com Robert Siciliano. “That means no heat. It means no electricity. It also means potentially no food and water.”

Experts we spoke to say US corporations get 30 million cyber-attacks every year from different countries.

“We are overcoming many cyber attacks but if Russia is putting all their efforts and all the best people on attacking the US system it’s worth noting.

So if it’s worth noting for you, grab a pen and paper because she has a few tips:

1. Food and Water: When the electricity goes out, so do our refrigerators and freezers. Keep at least two gallons of water per person in your household on hand for drinking, and at least two weeks of nonperishable foods in your pantry.

2. Light: If our grids are disabled, the first thing we’re going to need is light. Make sure you have flashlights and fresh batteries on hand, as well as candles and matches.

3. Back it Up: Invest in portable power stations, backup generators, and/or solar-powered power sources in order to watch the news on your televisions or computers, and keep your phones charged in order to stay connected. Make a copy of your computer hard drive on an external storage device, screenshot, or even write down on paper important phone numbers for friends and family.

4. Password Protect from Scams and Spam: Don’t share your passwords or pins. Period. And change them regularly. Create strong passwords using both upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Opt-in to two-method verification systems where possible.

5. Know Who is Emailing You: Don’t click on links or open email attachments from senders you don’t know. This is often how malware (and ransomware) is uploaded to your computer. Be especially aware that scammers can track down you and your vital information with the sharing of the most innocent photo of your home or workplace.

6. Invest in a VPN Internet Connection: At home, and if you can afford it, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN is, essentially, a private network within the ISP’s network that encrypts your internet connection. It hides your location, your search history, and your private information.

7. Keep Cash On-Hand: ATMs function with electricity too. Keep a small stash of emergency cash “under the mattress.”

8. Read Your Bank Statements, Check Your Credit Reports: Check your checking and credit card statements regularly for activity or charges you don’t recognize. And check your credit report regularly to make sure it doesn’t reflect accounts you didn’t open or loans that you didn’t initiate.

9. Keep Your Cars Fueled or Charged: Most gas pumps also need electricity to function and, though gas stations are required to be able to access alternative power sources, it is prudent not to let your gas tank go below half full. If you’ve got an electric car, charge it on a regular basis so you can travel to the nearest hub of your choice.

10. Count on Old School Mentality: Prior to the internet revolution, our parents and grandparents all had survival skills that unfortunately seem obsolete. Ask the senior members of your family to share any other tips they think will help you live through a disaster. When you chat you’ll see just how strong and inspiring those around you can be.

“Big tech knows where you are, your health status, what medicine you take, where you go, and what you buy,” said Hoffman. “Nobody knows all that about you but big tech knows.”

She says these tips are basically like having insurance. A cyber attack like a car crash is not likely to happen but if it does do you want to be insured.

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