Four Simple Steps to Protect Yourself From a New Type of Crime

The Weekend Edition is pulled from the daily Stansberry Digest.

The city of Baltimore is under attack...

No, helicopters and tanks aren't rolling past our company's headquarters in the city. But as I will explain today, it's something that can be just as devastating...

I'm talking about a cyberattack.

Last month, anonymous hackers used "ransomware" – malicious software that gains access to computer systems or files – to lock thousands of city government computers...

The attack shut down city employees' e-mail accounts. It prevented residents from doing simple tasks like paying water bills online. Because some folks couldn't pay their traffic tickets, they ran into trouble renewing their driver's licenses. And hundreds of home sales in Baltimore were held up because the city couldn't figure out if sellers had any unpaid liens.

Although Baltimore's mayor declared the city "open for business" earlier this week, things still aren't completely back to normal yet. As the Baltimore Sun reported on Tuesday...

A third of Baltimore employees have regained access to their computers after the ransomware attack and 90% are expected to be back online this week... And city officials announced two new workarounds to pay water bills and traffic tickets.

Sheryl Goldstein told reporters at a City Hall news briefing that the IT office is working to verify the identities of the city's 10,000 employees and provide them with new login details. The process of getting workers back online began last week.

Once the victims of these types of cyberattacks pay the ransom, the hackers say they'll return computer access back to the owners. The hackers in this case reportedly demanded 13 bitcoins – about $76,000 at the time – to end the attack.

But a month later, Baltimore's mayor still refuses to pay the ransom. And ultimately, it'll cost the city substantially more to repair the damage. According to the Sun, those costs could total as much as $18 million – including roughly $10 million in direct expenses and another $8 million in lost or deferred revenue – when it's all said and done.

The FBI and the U.S. Secret Service are looking into the incident. And the city continues to work with several cybersecurity experts as it tries to regain full control of its networks.

In short, it's a mess.

This isn't the first time that Baltimore has dealt with a cyberattack, either... In March 2018, hackers infiltrated the city's 911 emergency system with ransomware. During that attack, dispatchers were forced to share addresses and other important information to emergency personnel over the phone. Normally, they'd do it electronically – which is much faster.

And Baltimore isn't the only place hackers have struck recently...

Since the beginning of last year, credit-ratings firm Moody's estimates that at least 70 ransomware attacks have been reported on American cities.

Cities are often easy targets for hackers, since they usually can't afford to spend much to prevent such attacks. Instead, the cities rely on insurance to cover the damage. And as we saw with Baltimore, the damage is often substantially larger than the ransom...

In March 2018, the city of Atlanta gambled with hackers – and lost. The attackers forced many city government operations to shut down. Officials even disabled the Wi-Fi network at the nearby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – the busiest in the world – as a precaution.

The hackers demanded six bitcoins – valued at about $51,000 at the time – to release the encrypted data. Instead, it reportedly cost around $17 million for the city to fix the problem, according to Breckinridge Capital Advisors... almost 3% of its annual budget.

And this past April, a ransomware attack hit Greenville, North Carolina... Officials refused to pay the ransom of 13 bitcoins. Instead, officials spent weeks and far more than what the hackers originally asked for in order to rebuild the city's computer systems. It remains to be seen how much these efforts will eventually cost Greenville, but it won't be cheap.

Of course, hackers don't just prey on big cities... According to market-research firm Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware will attack a business every 14 seconds by the end of this year. That's a much faster rate than every 40 seconds in 2016. And it doesn't include attacks on individuals, which happen much more frequently.

Cybersecurity Ventures predicts that damage costs from ransomware attacks worldwide will reach $11.5 billion this year. That's up more than 35 times from $325 million in 2015.

Ransomware isn't the only way for hackers to wreak havoc in your daily life...

If you're like most Americans, you're probably spending an increasing amount of your day online. And the more you use the Internet, the more accounts you're likely creating.

You probably have an account to shop on Amazon or to watch movies on Netflix. Maybe you do your banking or manage your investments over the computer. And you keep in touch with family across the country through social media services like Facebook and Instagram.

With every new online account, you're more and more exposed to the bad guys. You've likely been the victim of at least one cyberattack, identity theft, or phishing attempt.

Thankfully, you can take some simple steps today to protect all your valuable information...

 For starters, use a longer password – and make it more than just letters and numbers...

The average password is eight or nine characters long. The longer and more complex the password, the more secure your account will be... It'll be harder for hackers to figure out.

Cybersecurity experts typically recommend a password that's at least eight characters long. And they also say to include a combination of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols in every password you create.

One trick is to sprinkle symbols throughout a long word or phrase – "Chr!$+!@n_!s_#1" would be a good example. According to a password-security website sponsored by password manager Dashlane, it would take a computer about 16 billion years to crack that one.

Next, avoid using the same password across multiple websites...

If you do, a hacker can make your life even more difficult by the time you find out you're compromised.

If the bad guy gets access to a password on just one site, he'll likely be able to use his advanced technology to quickly access your data on every site in which you've used that same password. By keeping a different password for every online account, you'll make that harder to do.

And put a reminder on your calendar to change your passwords regularly – like every quarter. That way, you can protect yourself if something gets compromised without you knowing it.

I also recommend using two-factor authentication ("2FA") whenever possible...

2FA is an extra layer of security you can put on top of your username and password for a website. It comes in different forms that vary by website, but the most common is a text message that is sent to your cellphone each time you want to access your account.

The message is usually a small string of numbers so the website knows it's really you. You'll punch the numbers from the text message into the website in order to access your account.

It's kind of like the peephole in the front door of your house. When you come home from work, your husband or wife (the website) can make sure it's safe to let you in before he or she opens the door.

I use 2FA for a bunch of sensitive websites – like my bank account. It's an added level of protection that keeps the bad guys away from your sensitive information.

Taking these steps is a good start toward keeping your information secure while you're surfing the Internet. Or better yet, you can get a tool that does all of these things for you...

I'm talking about using a secure password manager...

With more and more passwords to remember, it's no wonder that most Americans forget complicated ones or choose to make them too easy to figure out – like "123456" or "password."

The great thing about a password manager is you don't have to remember new passwords every time you create an account on a website.

LastPass is the most popular password manager available today... I use it and store more than 500 passwords in my LastPass "vault."

The details of how it works are a little tricky. But basically, you have a vault in the cloud where all your passwords for different websites and online accounts are kept.

You simply download a browser extension. Then, the extension generates unique, random, long passwords for each website you go to. Once you settle on a password, LastPass prompts you to add it to your vault.

Every time you log into a website, LastPass will fill in your username and password for you. All the passwords in your vault are encrypted with a master password. It's like the key to your safe. And if hackers compromise one website, they'll only get access to your account on that one website – and only until you change the password.

It's important to note... LastPass doesn't have access to your master password or your data on its servers. That means, if you lose your master password... LastPass can't help you.

So be sure to set up emergency access to your account ahead of time. That way, if something happens to you or you forget your master password, you'll still be able to get into your vault through this backup plan.

And remember, all your data are secure on LastPass' end because they're heavily encrypted. So if LastPass itself were to get hacked, the bad guys would just get useless blobs of data.

In the end, it's easy to use... and best of all, it's more secure than creating dozens and dozens of passwords yourself. But I encourage you to take some time to read the LastPass website so you know how it works before creating an account.

It's clear that ransomware and hackers will only get worse for folks in the years ahead...

But you don't have to be a victim.

If you follow the simple steps I shared today, you'll be much safer as you use the Internet in your everyday life. And even better, if you know which companies will lead the way in the growing cybersecurity market, you can position yourself to profit from this trend...

That's one of the ways we aim to help our subscribers in Stansberry Innovations Report.

As we move forward in the months ahead, we're planning to identify many ways to profit from this trend and other high-tech innovations – like artificial intelligence, robotic surgery, and gene therapy.

If you aren't already receiving all of our Stansberry Innovations Report research, I'd like to invite you to try a 30-day risk-free trial subscription. For a limited time, we've arranged a special offer... You can get your first year at 80% off the retail price. Get started right here.

Good investing,

Christian Olsen

Editor's note: We encourage you to take advantage of the best deal we've ever offered for Christian's technology research. Normally, a one-year subscription to Stansberry Innovations Report costs $199. But for a limited time, you can get access for just $39 for the first year. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee per week. Learn more here.