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Following several recent high-profile ransomware attacks on American companies, the Alabama Securities Commission is warning Alabamians to stay on high alert.

They say hackers are not only targeting companies, but also smartphone and computer users. Officials say hackers are increasingly targeting consumer investment accounts.

Ransomware attacks are a type of scam in which hackers trick a user into clicking a link or downloading a file that installs a virus on the device, giving the hacker control over the device. The hacker then demands a ransom be paid in order to unlock the device. They often require the ransom to be paid using a hard-to-trace method, such as cryptocurrency.

In a news release Tuesday, the Alabama Securities Commission urged Alabamians to practice ‘cyber hygiene’ to protect themselves against cyber attacks. The commission said leaving your accounts unprotected is like leaving your front door unlocked, leaving you vulnerable to potentially devastating attacks.

The Alabama Securities Commission offers the following ‘cyber hygiene’ tips:

  • Secure your internet network and change the generic password that comes with the router. 
  • Strengthen your password by making it at least 12 characters or longer, and add numbers.
  • Use two-factor authentication when logging into financial accounts.
  • Exercise extreme caution when using a free Wi-Fi network. Hackers can set up decoy networks that appear to be legitimate networks in hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops, which allows them to see and record your activity.
  • Update the software on all of your devices (tablets, smartphones, and computers).
  • If you receive an email from an unknown sender (even if the details appear accurate), do not respond, and do not click on any links or attachments found in that email. Instead, call to verify the information.
  • Slow down and think before you click. Many phishing emails attempt to create a sense of urgency, causing the recipient to fear their account or information is in jeopardy. 
  • Be cautious of generic greetings such as “Hello Investor,” as these are often signs of phishing attempts. If concerned about the legitimacy of an email, call the company directly.
  • Never give out personal information, account numbers, and passwords to anyone, especially in response to unsolicited emails, text messages, or phone calls for the information.

If you’re planning on making an online investment, call the Alabama Securities Commission ahead of time to check the registration status of the business or individual offering investment services. The Alabama Securities Commission can be reached at 1-(800)-222-1253.