Surge in cyber attacks brings reminder about data protection

HARRISBURG—The FBI recently reported that the number of complaints about cyber-attacks had reached 4,000 per day, a 400 percent increase compared to before the pandemic.

The international police agency INTERPOL also reports an alarming rate of cyber-attacks globally. In addition to consumers, businesses and government agencies are also being targeted.

“Phishing is by far the most common tactic used by cyber criminals,” said Erik Avakian, chief information security officer for the state. “The easiest way for bad actors to commit their crimes is by tricking people into handing over their information or opening links to malicious software.”

Phishing is when someone represents themselves as a trusted source so that a victim will provide personal information, open attachments, or click on links. Phishing frequently occurs through email, it can also occur through phone calls, websites, social media, text messages, and other forms of communication.

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month and with the ongoing surge of cyber-attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvanians are reminded about the need to protect their information online.

“Online criminals will try to exploit any situation to steal the personal information and defraud consumers, and this pandemic is no different,” said Secretary of Administration Michael Newsome. “As the pandemic continues, the need to be vigilant in our online activities is greater than ever.”

The Protecting Yourself Online guide, available on, provides information to help prevent identity theft and other cybercrimes, as well as resources and advice on what to do if you become a victim.

You can help to secure your personal information by:

  • Installing firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-spyware programs and keeping them up to date. Many software programs and operating systems can be set to update automatically when new versions are available.
  • Using strong passwords that include upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Do not reuse passwords or use the same password for multiple accounts. There are password management programs available that can help you keep track of all your account credentials.
  • Thinking before you click. Do not open email or related attachments from untrusted sources. When in doubt, delete.
  • Avoiding public Wi-Fi hot spots, such as those offered by retailers and at other locations, whenever possible. Do not transmit or receive personal information while using public Wi-Fi. 
  • Educating yourself about popular online scams, such as ransomware and phishing, and how to recognize them.

The Office of Administration oversees cybersecurity for state agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction.

“Protecting data is at the heart of everything we do as an IT organization and a responsibility we take on with the utmost commitment,” said Deputy Secretary for Information Technology John MacMillan. “In an ever-more interconnected world, collaboration on cybersecurity is also critical, which is why we work closely with our partners in the federal government, counties, other states, and the private sector to share information on emerging threats.”

MacMillan said all Pennsylvanians can safeguard themselves against cyber hazards by utilizing security practices and implementing security preparedness measures such as the installation of antivirus software programs and knowing how to recognize potential spam attempts.