Your guide to 5 types of cybercrime and how to stay safe online


What types of cybercrime are there and how do you stay safe online?

Cybersecurity and cybercrime are undeniably important issues, with stories of hacks, online identity theft and the dark web never far from the headlines. Cybercrime has even been showcased on TV, in Mr Robot and in an arc on Grey’s Anatomy where the hospital was hacked and blackmailed.

Cybercrime is very definitely in the mainstream – and we’re all using devices more than ever, but many of us are still unprepared for a cyber-attack. We think it won’t happen to us – but cybercrime happens every day, and it could happen to you.

You’d never dream of leaving a house or car without locking it, but many of us do the digital equivalent every day with our phones or computers.

The good news is that there are ways to prevent many, if not most, cybercrimes with a little vigilance, some good habits and awareness of online vulnerabilities.

Here are five of the most common examples of cybercrime, and how to best prevent them.

What is cybercrime? A definition

Cybercrime refers to any illegal activity that uses, targets, or otherwise involves computers or computer networks. That can include digital identity theft, malware distribution, data theft, extortion, and online harrassment, to name a few.

Who are cybercriminals?

A cybercriminal is anyone who commits malicious or illegal acts using computers or information technology. While serious cybercrime is often perpetrated by organized groups of cybercriminals, it can also be committed by everyday individuals.

The word “hacker” is often used interchangably with “cybercriminal,” but not all cybercriminals have the technological skills of a hacker, and not all hackers are cybercriminals. Lots of so-called “white hat” hackers use their know-how to thwart “black hat” hackers engaging in criminality.

Types of cybercrime #1: Fake public networks

The crime

Yes, free Wi-Fi is always tempting, but a Wi-Fi network is notoriously easy to set up. Theoretically, someone could set up a fake Wi-Fi network under the name of the café or bar you’re in – and next thing you know, you’ve logged on to the network and someone is watching every single thing you’re doing.

That’s not great, is it?

Everything you do on the free network could be up for grabs – that means passwords, PINs and personal browsing information. Yikes.

What to do

When you’re out and about, it’s almost always worth taking the hit and paying for your own internet use (chances are you’re lucky enough to have 4G, so it shouldn’t be a big concern). If you don’t have data on your phone, you can use free Wi-Fi, but consider using a VPN (a network that hides everything you’re doing online).

If you still want to use free Wi-Fi, quickly talk to a staff member to ensure that the Wi-Fi provider is legit. You don’t even have to ask that question; instead ask for the password or the Wi-Fi name, so you can make sure everything matches up.

Never connect to a Wi-Fi network if you don’t know what it is or who it belongs to as it may be a trap.

Types of cybercrime #2: Password phishing on public computers

The crime

Public computers are notoriously vulnerable and they can store information on thousands of people. Hackers can install apps on public computers (either onsite or remotely) to source this information.

Think of it like a high-tech version of peeking at someone’s PIN at an ATM. Put it like this: if you wouldn’t want someone watching over your shoulder, then you don’t want to use a public computer without taking precautions.

What to do

Covering your tracks is much easier when you’re using your own device. Public computers aren’t as common as they used to be, but they’re still popular fixtures in airports and some cafés. Password-sourcing and memorising programmes are common (you might even use one in your office), and hackers can install them on public computers and use them to steal passwords for users.

If you’re using a public computer, try to avoid online banking and shopping, and if possible, social networks. The latter may leave you vulnerable to having personal information stolen.

If you have to log in to any of your accounts, make sure you have two-factor authentication set up so that you get a text to your phone to verify the activity with a PIN code – that way, a hacker would need both your phone and your password to log in as you.

Types of cybercrime #3: Password theft

The crime

Password theft is the most common type of cybercrime as it can give access to everything from your financial accounts (bank, credit union etc.) to any online shops you buy from. The latter is especially risky, because once a hacker has open access to your favourite shopping account they could be able to get to your credit card – and then you’re in big trouble!

What to do

It can be a nuisance remembering multiple passwords, but we strongly recommend using a different, strong password for every website you’re on. Use upper and lowercase letters, numbers and punctuation in passwords, and change them regularly.

If you find multiple passwords hard to remember, use a mnemonic. For instance, your Amazon password might be BtoimB99! (“Buying things online is my Bag”).

You could also consider using a safe password management app to remember your passwords for you.

Types of cybercrime #4: Identity theft

The crime

Like many cybercrimes, this is a modern reworking of an old scam: pretending to be the victim in order to source sensitive information. Disguises are still used, but this time, a computer or device is front and centre.

What to do

Think of a stolen identity as combined pieces of a puzzle, and the more pieces you give away, the easier it is to put that puzzle together. So be especially careful on social networks, where the answers to “forgot password” questions might be lurking, such as your mother’s maiden name, pet names or first schools.

Also never give away your full postal address, any kind of ID numbers (which show up if you’re taking a picture of packing for holidays, for instance, and your passport is in shot) or other information that might be useful to hackers.

Types of cybercrime #5: Malware

The crime

With malware (a word that combines “malicious” and “software” so you know it’s nasty), a hacker can unleash a virus onto your device. This malware can be installed via a website or app, and can steal personal, financial or business information.

It can also be used to “brick” your device (making it completely useless), sometimes for blackmailing purposes – with hackers demanding a fee for returning the device (or even numerous devices, like an office network) to its original condition. In some extreme cases, malware can even be used to house criminal material.

What to do

Firstly, be careful about what you do online. It’s an obvious tip, but it’s one a lot of people take for granted. A lot of malware can be avoided by being smart online. Before you download or install anything onto your phone or computer, read the user reviews, check out the screenshots and try to find reviews beyond Google Play or the App Store.

Reliable antivirus and antimalware solutions are also invaluable for avoiding any nasty surprises.

Protect yourself online

As cybercrime evolves and becomes more sophisticated, you must be careful online. Your information is precious so keep up to date with threats, update your devices, and install a comprehensive security suite that keeps you safe online.

Ellie Farrier
  • Ellie Farrier
  • Cybersecurity writer
Ellie Farrier is a Prague-based cybersecurity writer interested in how technology and society overlap, especially the impacts of device security. Previously, she worked as a technical writer, diving into product troubleshooting, how-to guides, and tech usability.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


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