As cybercriminals become increasingly sophisticated, it’s critical for consumers to be informed about the various kinds of cyberthreats and how to avoid them. That’s because cyberattacks can put someone’s finances, personal information and devices at risk.

To avoid becoming the target of a scam, it’s important to know the various ways bad actors can gain access to your sensitive data and cause harm. Here are some of the most common forms of cyberattacks and how to steer clear of them.

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Wi-Fi hacking

Simply put, Wi-Fi hacking is when a bad actor with illicit intentions gains unauthorized access to someone’s Wi-Fi network. They may intend to steal personal information to use illegally or they may want access to the network’s resources for their own gain.

Cybercriminals accomplish this a few ways. First, they can use software — or simply make educated guesses based on information about a user that is easy to find — to crack a Wi-Fi network’s password and gain entry. Savvy attackers may also use what is called a man-in-the-middle attack to intercept data shared between a user’s device and the Wi-Fi router.

Other times, a bad actor may lure unsuspecting users with fake Wi-Fi hot spots that aren’t secure. When a user connects to one of these rogue access points, their data is easy to steal.

Fortunately, there are some simple things consumers can do to help protect themselves from Wi-Fi hacking. The most important is good advice with any technological tools: Use strong passwords. Using more complex passwords — and changing them regularly — can make it more difficult to hack a Wi-Fi network. Also, be sure to use different passwords for everything. This ensures that bad actors can’t use a single stolen password to access all of your accounts.

It’s also critical to keep your software current so you benefit from the most up-to-date security patches. This includes anti-virus software, your operating system and even router firmware. Also use encryption on your Wi-Fi network to protect your data, and, if possible, use a virtual private network (VPN) for an additional layer of protection.

When you’re out in public, don’t connect to public Wi-Fi networks that aren’t password protected. Use only trusted networks, which offer the most protection for your sensitive information.

Identify theft

One common type of cyberattack is identity theft. This is when a fraudster steals your personal information — such as your banking credentials, credit card numbers, Social Security number or other financial or identifying information — and uses them for their own gain.

Victims of identity theft face many challenges, such as damage to their credit score, significant financial loss, and feelings of anger and violation. This kind of cyberattack is also a thief of time, as it can take months or years for an identity theft victim to dispute fraudulent charges, deal with unauthorized accounts, and resolve issues with the Social Security Administration and credit bureaus.

That’s why it’s so important to take steps to protect against identity theft. The measures to safeguard against Wi-Fi hacking offer many benefits, but there are other identity-specific things you should do to reduce your risk of being targeted. One key step is protecting your Social Security number by keeping it stored in a secure place, such as a safe, and by limiting who you share it with.

Identity thieves aren’t above digging through the trash to find banking and credit card information, so be sure to shred any documents that contain personal data before you discard them.

It’s also a good idea to regularly check your credit report for signs of suspicious activity, such as new accounts in your name that you didn’t open. Monitor your bank, credit card and investment accounts, too, so you can spot any potential irregularities early and take measures to resolve them before significant damage is done.

Many consumers like the added layer of security that credit monitoring and identity theft protection services provide. These services monitor your personal information and accounts and alert you to anything suspicious. You can also freeze your credit report through these services, which makes it harder for fraudsters to open accounts in your name.

Phishing attacks

In contrast to Wi-Fi hacking and identity theft, phishing attacks involve bad actors tricking unsuspecting consumers into sharing their personal information, such as passwords and credit card credentials. Phishing attacks most commonly occur via email, text message and phone calls. Often the phishing attempt looks or sounds legitimate, so consumers may let their guard down and give their personal information to the fraudster.

Consumers can protect themselves from this kind of attack by staying vigilant and being cautious of any requests for their information, especially those that are unexpected. Before you do anything, it’s important to verify the identity of the person or entity seeking your information. For example, if an email purports to be from your bank but doesn’t quite look right, it’s a good idea to call your banker to see whether the request is real.

Also, carefully examine any suspicious communications for the telltale signs of fraud, such as a logo that is the wrong color, spelling or sentence construction that looks off, or email addresses that don’t correspond with the organization the email claims to come from.

Above all, don’t click on links or open attachments from any communications that look suspicious. When in doubt, delete them.

In addition to these efforts, it’s helpful to follow general advice for online security, such as avoiding public Wi-Fi networks and maintaining up-to-date security software on all your devices to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a phishing attack.

Malware and ransomware attacks

Malware and ransomware attacks are often in the headlines, and it’s important to understand what they are and how to prevent yourself from falling victim to them. Malware is software that can infiltrate your computer and steal your information or cause your computer to not work properly. Ransomware is designed to encrypt files on a victim’s computer and keep them frozen until the victim pays a ransom to the cyberattacker.

Both kinds of attacks are disruptive and potentially costly, which is why it is important to prevent them before they happen. Fortunately, if consumers are taking the measures above, such as protecting their devices with antivirus software, using complex and unique passwords, keeping their software updated and avoiding free Wi-Fi, they already have some protection against ransomware and malware cyberattacks.

As with preventing a phishing attack, it’s also important to be wary of any email attachments and links in unsolicited emails. Sometimes bad actors use these methods to install malware or ransomware on your devices and wreak havoc on your finances, your computer or your life.

If you do become impacted by ransomware or malware, your files may be compromised. That’s why it’s critical to regularly back up your important files to cloud-based storage or an external hard drive. Then, if a cyberattack occurs, you’ll still be able to access your data.

Cyberattacks can carry significant consequences for consumers. By being aware of the most common methods — and how to avoid them — individuals can protect themselves and the things they care about so they don’t fall victim to avoidable scams.