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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Ciccarelli

Hacking Basics for Protecting Small Businesses

Hacker Protection for USA Businesses

As the internet has developed from greatly from 1983 to now 2023. So, also have the people who hack individuals and businesses to gain important personal data or plant viruses. The internet has also fueled small business growth by working with affordable marketing agencies like Citypeak Marketing. Usually hackers are ordinary people looking to cheat and scam other people by primarily electronic methods. Each of us are susceptible to hackers and this can take a huge toll on your small business marketing budget. From the moment we open a letter in the mail, receive a phone call or text, read our emails, or go on social media we are at risk of becoming scammed. This is why it is essential to work with a marketing agency like Citypeak Marketing who can offer more than marketing methods to improve your security measures and act as an IT team for your small business.

We at Citypeak Marketing are a small business marketing agency that greatly values our client’s data security. We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure they stay safe and avoid malicious attempts while growing their businesses. We build a client’s online presence organically since we are a full-service marketing agency that acts as a web design agency, search engine marketing services, PPC agency, email marketing agency, and social media marketing agency. Our digital marketing agency allows client’s online presence to grow rapidly, but it can make them a target due to being more publicly visible in order to gain sales and attain company growth. For this reason, we have seen an increased need to write in detail about hacker’s methods, ways to defend against them, and protect yourself in the future as scammers will not be going away anytime soon.

Tips To Covering the Basics of Cybersecurity

­A – Look Before You Click Links Do not trust the first online search result you view. Also, hover over links in emails to see target sites before clicking. It could be a fake website designed to appear as popular search terms to collect information and spread malware.

B – Pause Before You Act The majority of scams have a sense of urgency for you to act quickly and not think to avoid them. Look out for typos, unfamiliar email addresses, and unexpected attachments. Also, remember that nothing is ever free.

C – Create Strong and Unique Passwords It is important to create strong passwords on websites, and create a couple different ones to not use the same one every time. Avoid common words and obvious identity words (birthdays, cities, pet names). This also prevents big data breaches from affecting you greatly.

D – Activate Multi-factor Authentication Adding this security step is key for emails and bank accounts. Since most websites only show the last 4 digits of your card this is not necessary. However, a hacker can do a lot of damage with access to your emails or banking accounts.

E – Update When Necessary Enabling automatic updates ensures your software, browser, and apps stay up to date and secure from bugs. Patches are created to improve security and reduce your risk of a possible attack.

How Hackers Gain Access to You

There are a variety of methods that hackers will use to gain access to your information. Personally, the closest calls we have had include spam texts & emails, and fake websites. We have even received a box of USB devices that we never ordered – so it was thrown away since a USB can contain malware. The definition of malware is malicious software that is developed by cyber-criminals (or hackers) to steal data and damage or even destroy computers. There are several versions of malware such as; viruses, spyware, ransomware, and adware. Once malware is on your computer it is important to take the necessary steps to remove it.

Steps to Remove Malware from Phone, Tablet or Computer

1 – Determine How It Was Installed This may be an app or a malicious file that was downloaded unknowingly. S mode was created by Windows to help prevent downloading unverified apps, but sometime must be disabled to run key apps like Adobe Photoshop. It is important to go through your apps and uninstall all unnecessary ones within the “Apps & notifications” section in your phone’s settings.

2 – Computer Security Scans You can also run a basic “Virus & threat protection” scan with Windows and Mac computers. Simply go to your computer settings and search for “virus” to find the scan options.

3 – Using Antivirus Software There are several essential antivirus software available for personal or business use. The most popular two are Norton & McAfee antivirus protection. They will speed up the procedure with their antivirus scanning process and removing files that were detected as malware. They also can identify what passwords are exposed.

4 – Tech Support Contact your computer manufacturer or bring to a local reputable computer store. At Citypeak Marketing we always help our clients troubleshoot their computers virtually and go through the steps on fixing any issues.

Hacking 101 Understanding the Sources

Hacker attempts always involve users paying for something, clicking a link, or verbally saying information by phone call. Once you understand where cyber-criminals can target or exploit you, then you can proceed with knowledge in those areas and never fall victim. Here are the following most used methods by scammers;

- Fraudulent Calls & Texts

- Spam Emails

- Malicious Websites

- Malicious Phone Numbers

- Big Data Breaches

These types of hacking methods are so widely used that you probably experience them once or twice a week. There are several ways to avoid them, and we will give you our best practices to avoid a hacking attack. You can even mitigate your loss in the event of a big breach like the Home Depot data breach (2014) and Equifax data breach (2017), by using a variety of passwords.

The Best Practices Checklist to Stay Safe Online

Best Tools to Avoid Scammers:

- Authentic email provider such as Gmail, with spam filter technology

- Phone service spam filter, such as with Verizon

- Purchase an antivirus safety program like McAfee or Norton

- Use an established internet provider like AT&T

Best Practices to Keep Your Data Safe from Cyber-criminals:

- Pay for online services or products with a credit car­d.

- Never use the same password for every website.

- Double Check phone numbers that you call when giving sensitive information.

- Review email addresses and not their names to identify fake emails.

- Never click a link in an email or text that you are not sure of why you have received it.

- Backup computer personal or business files onto a USB or external hard drive.

- Create a password sheet, written or typed to print and then delete the computer file.

- Send your device to be repaired by the manufacturer, versus a computer repair shop.

- Update your home internet password from the factory setting.

- Create a pin/password on all your devices (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.).

Examples of Malicious Attempts by Cyber-criminals

Scam Websites That Mimic Real Company’s

The most used hacking method is for a scammer to replicate a company’s website to take a payment with. This will usually be sent to you by email or text. However, you can also come across these websites on regular Google searches as “sponsored” posts. The hacking website can look the exact same as the authentic website, but usually has a couple of red flags. If you are unsure of a website being authentic you should go to Google and type in the company name, then scroll down to the website name without any “sponsored” tags. Then view the website or call to see if there is a “flash sale” or “free items” that the email or text is claiming. However, if you are unsure about a company name being the real website then check to see their ratings and comments. Below are 2 examples of scam websites that have scammed users.

Example 1: Home Depot Fake Website

There was a flash sale email that came in from email name “Home Depot”, although the email address was not the typical business one. You should always look at the email address for red flags such as a very long email address with numbers or lengthy words. Even if it says the company name “Home Depot,” it still can be a scam since Gmail lets any name be used by users, and the best way to tell is the email address.

The “Home Depot” flash sale showed markdowns of 50% to 75%, had limited inventory displayed, and a timer for countdown. The logo was not perfectly clear and the website was very short as only 1-page. This was a fake website designed to rush users into quickly purchasing an unrealistic deal for around a $100 - $200 price range. Users who fell for this trap would pay for an item to never receive it, as well as having their bank account information stolen and reused by the scammer.

Red Flags: Urgency tactics such as time limit, limited inventory, and countdowns. Low quality web design, unclear logos, and 1-page. Unrealistic prices or free items you never applied for. Fake email addresses but with the company’s name, with links to click in the email. Deals that are not promoted on the company’s actual website (Google the business name).

Overcoming Issues: You will know there has been an issue if you have ordered an item and never received it. Also, if the website you purchased on is no longer in service or there are no customer service options. Or if you have multiple unauthorized transactions on your card. If you have fallen for one of these fake websites, then call your credit card bank immediately. The phone number is on the back of card used. The bank will go through a refund process and close your current card so no further unauthorized transactions can occur.

Example 2: Yellow Pages Reseller

As a business you always need to look for directories to promote yourself. In this case, there is a fake Yellow Pages website that calls themselves the “Real Yellow Pages.” They charge users a $50 fee for a free service that the authentic Yellow Pages provides. Additionally, according to their BBB profile they have scammed multiple businesses beyond the $50 mark to upwards of $500. They offer advertising methods and, in some occasions, automatically charge user’s cards once it is on file. They are a professional fake company that scams businesses, and it is often difficult to identify. They run Google Ads sponsored posts and are even approved by PayPal to accept payments. However, their phone numbers listed on the website do not work – so if you are unsure always try calling the business in question or check their profile.

Real Yellow Pages URL:

Fake Yellow Pages URL:

Red Flags: Website’s phone numbers shown do not have a person answering. Their profile shows a poor rating with multiple complaints. They have a replica website that is similar to another website you are searching for, but is asking for payments. Also statistical content driving sales pressure.

Overcoming Issues: Filing a complaint with PayPal is a challenging task. It is fully automated and PayPal rarely offers refunds. This is why it is so important to always pay for things online with your credit card and dispute it with them. Banks have a much better process for their customers than PayPal, plus you can file a complaint and always talk with a real person.

Once the refund has been requested, you can call the authentic company and explain the situation so that they can take necessary steps to fixing it internally. This is important incase your business is locked out of an account or can no longer manage your online listing.

Phishing Emails That Want Your Information

The word “phishing” simply means a fraudulent method of sending emails or messages pretending to be from a reputable company in order to deceive individuals to reveal personal information (passwords, credit card numbers, birthdays, etc.). As a business you will receive fake emails constantly, but using a service like Gmail will help capture most of it and put into your spam folder. You can always select an email that is either fake or spammy (unwanted) and mark it as spam to be put into the folder. If you do enter giveaways or sweepstakes, it is important to create a secondary email so your primary email does not get flooded with unwanted spam. Also, if you ever have any questions regarding the safety of an email, we at Citypeak Marketing encourage our clients to forward them to us for investigation.

Example of Phishing Email: You may receive an email for a free item, but you never entered to win it. This is a scam email that is tricking you to click a link that will download a virus onto your computer. Viruses can read your files, shut down your computer, and even blackmail you into paying a fee (ransomware) to restore your access.

Phishing Texts That Mislead You

Having a phone is a great thing, but its always a huge vulnerability. You can get all sorts of mischievous texts to scare you into acting quickly without questioning the content. Luckily phone carriers like Verizon have made it easier with a spam tool integrated to your phone. These types of spams often look like something has gone wrong and you must take steps to fix it. If you don’t have a spam filter tool in place it is a good idea to call your phone carrier to learn about getting one.

Example of Phishing Text: “Your USPS package has arrived at a warehouse and cannot be delivered due to incomplete address information.” The message then requests you to click a link to fix the issue. Never click that link. Instead go to your email and see if USPS has sent you any update. If there is an email make sure it has the authentic USPS address that they normally use to communicate with you.

In Conclusion

If you follow our best practices checklist to protect yourself from cyber-criminals (aka hackers), then you will be secure online. Here are a few terms to take note of that were mentioned above.

- Cyber-criminals (aka Hackers)

- Phishing

- Malware

- Ransomware

- Antivirus

At Citypeak Marketing we can always walk our clients through a step-by-step process on how to complete any of these tasks that you are having trouble with. It is one of the digital marketing services we offer to promote our client’s businesses. We also know exactly how to follow a perfected procedure to minimize hacking attempts after they happen. All in all, we help our clients prevent hacker attacks and if they do happen, we help resolve their issues.

If you want to stay safe from cyber criminals then follow our “How to Guide” above. Hackers are creating more advanced and deceptive methods daily, but still follow the same simple procedures. Knowledge is power and if you are educated on their methods then your business can prevent becoming a victim to malicious attempts that could destroy your personal or business assets.


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