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Identifying and combating cybercrime

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. James Tetrault
  • 837th Cyber Operations Squadron

Cybercrime feels rampant in the world today. Whether affecting Target, the office of personnel management, or presidential campaigns, there never seems to be a shortage of reporting on the latest “theft” by some ghost.

The latest trend is ransomware, where a victim’s computer is rendered useless until they pay a ransom. I first ran into ransomware while I was working tech support for a retail electronics store. The customer’s computer only displayed a message informing us the computer’s files were encrypted. In order to decrypt them, the customer would have to pay $300 to the ransomware’s developer for the decryption key.

My job entailed assisting customers in repairing computers, retrieving data, and securing their system from future attacks. My work was exemplary, but in the face of this new type of malware, I was powerless to recover any data. In order to restore basic functionality to his laptop the customer lost tax records, family photos, and work documents.

That’s not to say that the effects of cybercrime are unavoidable. As with conventional crime, act proactively instead of reactively to protect yourself. Taking steps to secure your systems and educating yourself on what threats exist will make you less susceptible to cyber-attacks.

As your first step, place barriers between your computer and internet content. Keeping your computer up-to-date with software patches will not deter all attacks, but it will block many basic attacks that rely on outdated, still-vulnerable software in order to gain system access or deliver malware. Most programs have options to update automatically, making this one of the simplest steps to securing a system.

Furthermore, implement a strong anti-malware service. These services update continuously to provide the most current protection available, and act as a barrier between your computer and recognized malicious files. At the time of writing, McAfee offers its VirusScan software, which provides anti-malware among its many services, to Department of Defense employees free of charge.

Going further, applications exist that curate internet content to prevent you from reaching malicious pages or advertisements while browsing online. As an example, Google implements a Safe Browsing feature into their Chrome browser which alerts users when they are about to visit a malicious site. A 2014 study spearheaded by the University of California, Santa Barbara concluded that ad-blocking solutions are the best way to protect a system from malicious advertisements that can be served by otherwise trustworthy sites.

No matter how secure the system it will always contain a vulnerable exploit: the system’s user. Cyber criminals use phishing to convince users to hand over money, passwords, or system access by masquerading as a reputable entity.

Protect against phishing attempts by safeguarding information. You can prevent cyber criminals from gaining a foothold in your system by understanding when usernames, passwords, IP addresses, and other configuration information need to be shared and with whom.

Ultimately, education is the best defense from any type of attack. You avoid a financial scam, such as a pyramid scheme, by recognizing its structure. Cybercrime is no different; tech support scams almost always begin with an unsolicited phone call or pop-up informing the user that their computer is malfunctioning.

No matter how secure the system, you must have a contingency plan to minimize the damage from cybercrime. Have an isolated backup for critical files, and know how to reset a system to an uncorrupted state. Then, if you do find yourself the victim of malware, you will know how to respond.

Finally, if you believe you have been a victim of cybercrime, on an Air Force network, you should report the incident to your IAO and the 33rd Network Warfare Squadron ( If the incident occurs at home, please report it at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center website ( Additionally, there is a new service here on base designed to help with these exact issues. For additional technical support, meet with Cyberfix volunteers at the Scott AFB Library Wednesdays at 5pm.