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Security & privacy

A big cyberattack is coming — prepare now

There’s a cyberattack coming, and it’s going to be a big one. Whether it’s an attack on the power grid, air traffic control, the stock market, a weakness we haven’t found yet or all of the above, you can count on serious confusion and chaos to result.

Just so we’re clear, I’m telling you this so you can prepare, not panic. That way, when a digital Paul Revere starts yelling, “The hackers are coming! That hackers are coming!” you won’t be taken by surprise.

First, let’s talk about the scope of the problem. We’ve known for years America’s infrastructure isn’t as robust as it should be.

A recent example of a massive cyberattack is when hackers shut down a number of popular websites like Amazon and Twitter. These outages were the result of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on the domain host company, Dyn, which is part of the backbone of the internet. It works essentially as a middleman, directing requests to the right domains.

Shutting down websites is just the beginning. Imagine if attackers were to target something more necessary, like power grids.

That’s why you need to be prepared for a major attack.

It isn’t just the power grid. Over the past few years, hackers have been amping up their game by targeting the companies we use every day.

Retailers, hotel chains, restaurants, hospitals and other healthcare facilities, credit card companies, and many other types of businesses are getting hit by hackers. These hackers seek vulnerabilities in the organization’s network and exploit their customers’ personal information.

Beyond major corporations, hackers have also exposed several vulnerabilities within systems tied to government agencies. Just this past June, around 154 million voter records were stolen through a breach. That’s on top of the 191 million voter records that were stolen and released online earlier.

Cybersecurity issues have also been identified within the networks of local police departments, which is extremely concerning when you consider that these are the people who are supposed to keep you safe. Click here to see how police offices in Newark, New Jersey, were targeted.

And the list keeps growing. Plans are already in motion to upgrade the U.S. air traffic control system, but that brings with it problems a hacker can exploit.

I think I’ve proven my point about the various ways hackers could launch a cyberattack that causes major disruption; however, there are two more surprising avenues you might not have considered.

Not long ago, hackers knocked a radio station in Louisiana off the air, which is worrisome, since radio is one of the fallback ways to get information when everything else goes down. The radio station in question was running unsecured Windows XP computers, so it made the hackers’ job easier; however, it’s still evidence hackers can get to just about anything.

If hackers can’t attack electronically, they might stoop to something a bit cruder. There’s been a rash of instances where hackers have cut internet cables manually.

Since we’re talking about hackers taking down the power grid and other electronics, the way you protect yourself isn’t actually very high-tech. In fact, you’re going to be better off going low-tech.

Be sure you have a plan set up with family so everyone knows what to do if you can’t communicate. Designate a safe spot for everyone to go as soon as news of this or any disaster hits. Write it down, along with other emergency tips for younger children or grandchildren — or anyone else who needs it.

If cellphones go down, you’ll need a way to communicate. Pack a set of two-way radios or walkie-talkies into your emergency kit and prearrange a primary channel and a backup in case your main channel gets clogged. Make sure everyone in your family knows what channels to use.

For long-distance communication, you might think about keeping a landline and a phone that doesn’t rely on power. Landlines tend to be fairly bulletproof in disasters. Here are some more reasons to keep a landline.

Make sure you have important documents, like your passport, and some cash, since credit and debit cards might not work for a while. If you have important documents saved as digital files on your computer, print them out and store them in a safe location. You might not be able to get to them in a crisis.

You’ll want to keep up with what’s going on, and radio is the most likely thing to be working. Most radio stations have backup generators, and there are thousands of private operators who will be broadcasting, as well. App background

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