GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - It's becoming quite common to see another large-scale cyber attack in the headlines, including the recent Equifax data breach affecting 145 million Americans.
Local computer experts tell WITN internet crimes are even skyrocketing in Eastern Carolina, affecting local businesses and folks just like you, even local hospitals.
According to a report by Cybersecurity Ventures, cyber crimes will cost $6 trillion annually by 2021.
Medical providers are the new top target for hackers.
"We have had a few things before I got here," explains Justin Tuck, a security and privacy analyst at UNC Lenoir Health Care. "We had a denial of service attack from China and that was stopped before anything happened."
The hospital's IT team works around the clock to keep patient records from falling into the wrong hands. He says they belong to numerous professional organizations that monitor attacks and help companies and hospitals avoid them.
He also says they have multiple protective layers in place for things like emails and patient records.
"It is big money," Tuck tells WITN. "Credit cards on the black market go for pennies on the dollar compared to a medical record. I think the range they state is anywhere from $10 for a credit card and a medical record can be $50-plus per record."
Back in May, the WannaCry ransomware attack hit globally, shutting down 65 hospitals just in the U.K.
All it takes is one employee and one accidental wrong click, allowing files on that computer to become encrypted, and in serious cases, the whole server can be encrypted.
Then they get a ransom note demanding money to get access back, which can be tens if not more than $100,000 for hospitals.
"Billions of dollars for businesses every year in dealing with ransomware," says Sean Van Haelst, one of the owners of CPU in Greenville. "The last thing you want to do though is pay the ransom. All you're doing is like Somali pirates. You're just paying them to continue to do what they do. So you've gotta have the right protection in place so you can restore your files, get your servers back up, get your workstations back up."
Calling it a type of terrorism, Van Haelst says CPU has seen a number of local businesses also finding themselves with an ominous ransom note. "It will shut them down. I mean I've seen entire databases encrypted due to this."
It's not just businesses and hospitals that have to protect themselves, you at home need to be more vigilant now than ever.
"The idea behind it for most scammers is you attack a large audience, someone's going to bite," says Brad Proctor, the vice president of University PC Care in Greenville.
Another type of scam is a phishing attack, which is when hackers try to get sensitive information, like your credit card or password, by disguising as a trustworthy and legitimate entity.
You may have even seen them in your email. Some claim to be from the IRS and can look convincing. But if you can hover the mouse over the link *without clicking*, you can see the website it will take you to and it will have nothing to do with the IRS or the government.
University PC Care says they've seen an alarming increase in the number computers brought to them for tech scams, particularly this year with their last report showing more than 112 cases.
"It doesn't really pick if you're 20 years old, 30 years old or elderly, it's kind of attacking everyone," Proctor tells WITN, emphasizing that Apple products are no longer immune to cyber invasions.
One of the reasons it's happening more is because Proctor says it's easier for anyone to become a hacker. "A lot of these exploits or these hacks that happen, there's an entire black market for these items. They're called exploit kits. And with a little bit of research, you and I could find them. You could go buy what's called an exploit kit. And these are kits that are made that you could go and try and attack someone. And what these people will do sometimes is they'll attack smaller businesses, smaller individuals as they work towards attacking a larger organization."
Here's where it gets even scarier: it's not just your computer at risk.
"As we create these devices and we start to put them everywhere in our house, from things that have cameras in them, that have microphones in them, everyone carries around a mobile device," Proctor says.
While Proctor says it's rare for those devices to be hacked, there is always the chance and he says it can be nearly impossible to tell if that's happening to you.
Van Haelst agrees. "People always know what you're doing, where you're going online. Always know."
The advice all three computer experts recommend is to be overly cautious. Do NOT click on anything that you don't 100% trust. If it causes you any hesitation, play it safe and don't click the link.
Question calls, even if they seem legitimate.
"The biggest thing is that no company is going to call you and tell you that you have a problem with your computer unless you have an existing kind of contract with them," Proctor explains. "And then, even if they do, question them. Ask them if you can call them back because that puts it, you know, you're in control at that point. Don't give them money upfront unless you know they're a trustworthy individual. And it's just kind of, ask questions and don't just assume that everything's ok."
Finally, make sure you're backing up your data with an external hard drive and check your bank statements following online purchases to make sure there are no fraudulent charges.