Last week, I explained that we’re in the middle of the first war of the globalized era.
It’s the first time one of the major world economies has been cut off from international trade and finance. Because we live in this globalized world, we can’t escape the consequences.
Commodity prices are already soaring, especially energy base metals, with grain prices beating their previous 14-year highs. The supply-side shock will no doubt reinforce our already punishing inflation.
But there’s another key factor that makes this war different from all others that have come before.
It’s a whole new kind of battlefield that poses a direct threat to your portfolio and your hard-earned savings.
I’m talking about cybersecurity.
The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming
Whilst I was writing this article, my tools failed me.
I depend heavily on the internet. I use it for more than just information. I’m not a particularly good typist, so I’ve long used internet-based voice recognition software to dictate my articles and reports.
Suddenly, at about 2:30 p.m., all Microsoft services — including our internal online workgroup, Skype, cloud storage and online dictation — stopped working. I had an internet connection, but none of them connected.
My first thought was that the Russians had started a cyberwar … one I’d expected.
Early on February 24, Russian hackers attacked the Ukrainian government, military and civilian internet infrastructure. Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center detected this and informed the Ukrainian government.
They told the Ukrainians that the Russians were deploying a new malware package called “FoxBlade,” along with the steps they could take to identify and defeat it. The company continues to work closely with Kyiv and has publicly called attacks on civilian cyber targets violations of the Geneva Conventions.
We can only imagine how unhappy Vladimir Putin is with Microsoft right now.
But Microsoft isn’t the only potential target of Russian cyberwarfare. Any and every U.S. and European data company you can name — including Apple, Google and Meta — have all suspended services in Russia.
While most Americans seem to be in agreement with this decision, few realize how it can put their own data on the front lines of a whole new cyberwar.
Fortunately, there are a few practical steps you can take to prepare.
7 Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Savings
Even if the problems I experienced weren’t due to Russian cyberattacks, at least they reminded me to double down on my digital defenses. Here are the steps I take myself. I see them as absolutely necessary to keep your financial information and data secure:
- Multilayered backups. Create four copies of your essential data stored on your computer, phone, etc. Store one copy on a spare backup drive on your computer. Store another one on an external drive and put it in a fireproof box or safe. Store the third copy on a cloud service like Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. And if you really want to be sure your data is safe, store the fourth copy on an offshore encrypted data storage site (I use Proton Drive, based in Switzerland). When you make these backups, don’t forget things like your personal and business contact lists and calendars. Every email client allows you to choose where to store that data on your hard drive, so put it in the folders you’re backing up.
- Download your data from commercial institutions, like hospitals and banks. They are exceptionally vulnerable to malware attacks, especially ransomware. Most people keep bank records. But few know they can get their electronic medical history from doctors and hospitals. Especially if you have a chronic condition or are undergoing treatment, download your medical records and load them into your own backups. That way you’ll have your own information even if your provider gets hacked.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN creates an encrypted “tunnel” between you and anything you connect to on the internet. The data that flows through that tunnel is unreadable to anyone else. A VPN is essential when using a public Wi-Fi network, like at an airport or Starbucks. But there’s no reason not to have one for your home network as well. For example, if you upload data to a cloud storage service, it will be encrypted on their servers, but not while in transit to them. Using a VPN does that. (I use ProtonVPN.)
- Enable automatic updates to all of your internet-connected devices. Especially at a time like this, you’ve got to update your malware signatures. Microsoft Windows Security Service, for example, updates at least once a day, sometimes twice. If there’s faulty code on your computer, these updates will fix it before somebody can exploit it.
- Use a password vault. This isn’t just for security. It’s for your own sanity. Password proliferation has reached crisis proportions, and until somebody figures out a technology to get around it, having an encrypted password vault makes life a lot easier. I use Dashlane, but there are others. Whichever one you choose, make sure it’s properly encrypted, has never been hacked and can scan your records for potential breaches on third-party websites. I get a notification two to three times a month that a service I signed up for has been hacked and offering to log me in so I can change the password immediately.
- Be very suspicious. Any time an email, text or call arrives, ask yourself three questions. Is it from someone I know? Is it something I expected? Is this the format that I expected it to be in? If the answer to any of those is “no,” don’t click on any links.
- Don’t forget the physical world. Your data isn’t the only thing at risk in a cyberwar scenario. As Russian ransomware attacks on U.S. infrastructure like the Colonial Pipeline demonstrate, sloppy or lazy IT security systems can cause chaos. The Biden administration is working to convince companies to strengthen their defenses, but in many parts of the country, it would be easy for the Russians to shut down electricity, water and other essential services. Unfortunately, it’s not paranoid to suggest stocking up on several days’ worth of emergency supplies to get by if something like that happens.
Even without the war in Ukraine, the threat of cyberattacks is growing exponentially. One will eventually affect you.
But if you follow these seven steps, you’ll come through it in fine shape!