What to do in the event of a cyber attack

What is a cyber attack?

A cyber attack is an assault by cybercriminals on a computer or network. This can happen to businesses or organisations, like we saw with the 2016 Myspace data breach, where millions of passwords and email addresses were stolen and sold on to criminals. As well as big companies being attacked, individuals can also be a victim to having their information stolen or having someone impersonate them on the internet. Usually this is done either to cause harm to the individual attacked, others they know, or carry out criminal activities in their name.

Criminals have different hacking techniques to attack individuals and organisations. Hacking refers to the process of looking for ways to enter a computer system or network by force, or by exploiting weaknesses, or by tricking users through fake emails or websites.

Malware is one example of how a computer hack can be carried out. Malware is malicious software installed on your computer without you knowing. It can come from a dangerous link or email attachment that you have clicked on. This software will then cause damage by stealing your information, taking control of your computer for illegal purposes or to demand money from you.

Malware can often be carried in phishing emails. Phishing refers to fake emails, messages on social media or texts which appear to be from somebody you know or from a familiar company, such as your bank, but which are really from a criminal trying to steal your personal information such as credit card details. Phishing messages can be very sophisticated and difficult to spot. A key way to identify them is to get into the habit of hovering your mouse over a link (or long pressing on the link on a tablet), as this will reveal where the link is trying to take you.

No one is immune to cyber attacks and being affected by them does not mean you are stupid. Studies show that people of all ages and backgrounds are affected by scams through the internet. We’ve drawn together some advice on what to do in the unfortunate case that a cyber attack happens to you.

What can I do if I’m attacked?

  • Don’t be embarrassed

There can be stigma about admitting you’ve been scammed, whether to the authorities, your workplace or friends and family, but it’s far more common than many people realise and talking about it will help you access support and raise awareness.

  • Contact your service provider

If you think you may have been the victim of a cyber attack then it is important to contact any service provider linked to the attack, such as your bank or phone company. You should also contact your service provider if you receive an email or call from them that you aren’t sure is genuine. Contact them through a number or email address that you have found yourself through a search engine rather than what is given in the possibly fake email. It is always better to double check that it is genuine than to fall prey to a clever cyber crime.

  • Call the police or ask someone to call the police for you: 999 in an emergency and 101 in a non-emergency

Someone stealing your information or bank details is a crime. You should report what happened to the police, who can provide support and steps towards conviction. By reporting the incident, you may help stop the cyber attack happening again to others.

  • Talk to someone you trust.

Experiencing a cyber attack can be very stressful and confusing. It can help to talk to someone you trust about what happened, how you’re feeling and what your next steps are. You could also write down all the details about what happened, which can help you process the event and enable you to report it more clearly to the police.

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  • Access practical guides to solve problem

Depending on what happened to you, there are practical steps you can take to recovering your accounts and information and protecting yourself from further attacks.

  • Access emotional support

As well as affecting your digital devices and accounts, cyber attacks can take a toll on your emotional well being. It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious after such an event. Online communities like Victim Support can help you during this time. You could also talk to your doctor if you feel it is affecting your day-to-day life.