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What Is Cybercrime and What Can We Do to Stop It?

Seems like you can't scan the headlines or watch the news without seeing a story about a bank or retail outlet's databank being hacked. This is called cybercrime, and it goes much further than simply breaking into a computer. Cybercriminals may steal your identity, blackmail you or use your computer as part of a network to stage attacks on large institutions. Other cybercrimes include "revenge porn," cyber-stalking, harassment, bullying, social media fraud and even child exploitation. And the threats continue to evolve.

Recognizing cybercrime is not always easy and the signs may differ, depending the crime. The cybersecurity firm Avast lists several signs:

  • Malware unknowingly downloaded to your computer might slow it down and prompt it to show error messages.
  • Phishing attacks involve emails from unknown sources trying to trick you into revealing passwords or personal data.
  • Keyloggers will leave telltale indicators such as strange icons or will duplicate your messages.

With cybercriminals getting increasingly sophisticated, you may never realize your computer has been hacked.

Combating Cybercrime

The U.S. government devotes vast resources to fighting cybercrime. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service maintains task forces that focus on cyber-intrusions, bank fraud, data breaches and other computer-related crimes. It also runs the National Computer Forensic Institute, which trains law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges to fight cybercrime.

The website says the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service, Homeland Security Investigations, and Cybercrimes Center support domestic and international investigations into cross-border crime by providing computer-based technical training to federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies.

And, Law Enforcement Cyber Incident Reporting alerts state, local, tribal and territorial law enforcement about when to contact a federal entity. In addition, the private sector has a growing network of criminal investigators and security experts to combat cybersecurity threats.

How to Protect Yourself

If you use the internet, experts urge you to exercise caution. Antivirus software maker Norton offers several tips:

  • A full-service security suite provides real-time protection against existing and emerging malware and helps protect your private and financial information.
  • Use strong passwords, do not repeat your passwords on different sites and change your passwords regularly. Use a combination of at least 10 letters, numbers and symbols, and employ a password management system.
  • Keep all software updated.
  • Manage your social media settings to keep your personal and private information hidden. Cybercriminals can access your personal information with just a few clicks, so the less you share publicly the better.
  • Strengthen your home network with a strong encryption password as well as a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts all data leaving your devices until it arrives at its destination, so if you are hacked, the cybercriminal gets only encrypted information.
  • Talk to your children about the internet and make sure they can come to you if they are bullied or harassed.
  • Keep up to date on major security breaches. If you have an account with a merchant who has been hacked, change your password immediately.
  • Identity theft can happen anywhere, even when traveling. Keep your travel plans off social media and be sure to use your VPN.
  • Watch your children's activity on the internet and don't share their personal information.
  • Know what to do if you become a victim, like alerting local police and, in some instances, the FBI and Federal Trade Commission. Also, contact the companies and banks where the fraud occurred, place fraud alerts and get your credit reports.

Fighting cybercrime is everyone's responsibility. But it is also a never-ending battle, as criminals push their evolving technological skill set. That's why the Texas A&M International University online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program emphasizes advanced quantitative methods of fighting cybercrime.

The core curriculum covers the foundations of the criminal justice system and advanced methods of social research. Electives include seminars on corrections and police practices and a special topics course that can be shaped to meet your career goals. The program can be completed in 12 months.

Learn more about Texas A&M International University's online Master of Science in Criminal Justice program.


Avast: Cybercrime?

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Combating Cyber Crime

Norton: 11 Ways to Help Protect Yourself Against Cybercrime

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