A few weeks back, I got an email from a friend of mine with the subject line, “Viagra got hacked.” Naturally, I was curious and clicked on the message to find out what he meant. The first thing that greeted me was a rather ominous warning from Google:

“We’re always working hard to find new and innovative ways to protect our customers,” it read. “Unfortunately, as great as our detection systems are, they can’t help when a determined hacker attacks our infrastructure. But don’t worry: We’re working with the best security firms in the world to find the source of the attack and stop it once and for all.”

Then the email continued with more warnings about security threats, phishing attempts, malware, and so on. Finally, my friend Brandon introduced me to George Brockington, the founder of Brockington Security, which is one of the biggest firms that Google recommends using to protect its customers from cybercrime. In the years I’ve known George, he’s always been a voice of reason when it comes to security matters, and now he was the intermediary between me and Google. I was curious as to how he would respond to my question about how to hack Viagra, so I asked him.

“We find that most hackers begin their attack on popular eCommerce sites like Amazon, Google, and eBay, simply because they’re the biggest and most well-known sites on the web,” George said. “Once they’ve got that site compromised, they move on to the next. The most effective way to protect yourself from online crime is to stay as far away from any kind of online marketplace as possible. There, I just saved you several thousand dollars and avoided a potentially dangerous situation. If the online marketplace is vital to your business, then you should consider investing in a premium security certificate from a reputable company to ensure that your site remains safe and secure.”

This made complete sense to me. It’s always the little things that you worry about most that end up becoming a major problem, and being hacked is certainly a big issue when you’re talking about a pharmaceutical company that’s well-known for its erectile dysfunction medicine Viagra. But the story behind the story is kind of interesting.

The problem started a couple of years ago when Viagra became available to buy over the counter. Prior to that, if you wanted to buy the drug, you had to visit your doctor for a prescription. Now that it’s basically available all the time, a lot more people are getting tempted to go on a hacking spree in order to satisfy their cravings for the stuff. One of the first places that people go when they decide to hack Viagra is always Russian cybercrime forums, popularly known as “dark markets.”

Russian cybercrime forum operators have created a cottage industry of hacks for sale. For a price, you can get access to any database that you could possibly want, including bank accounts, employee records, and even customer credit card information. For something a little less mainstream, you could buy the email list of a major political campaign in the U.S., for example, or the email list of a well-known magazine to gain access to their readers’ email addresses. Once you’ve got a large list of email addresses, you could then promote fake Viagra offers to the list or sell the information to other cybercriminals, who could then send out spam to those addresses with a link to a fake pharmacy website, which then charges the credit card of the unsuspecting user, who then reports the charge to the credit card company as ‘fraudulent.’

This epidemic of cybercrime is something that the U.S. government has been trying to fight for years, and for good reason. The 2016 elections were just the latest example of how vulnerable our election systems are to online tampering. It’s only a matter of time before someone attempts to use a malicious code of some kind to compromise our electoral process.

To counter this threat, in 2015 the Department of Homeland Security launched Project Alameda, an initiative designed to secure the nation’s electoral infrastructure. The project is being led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and its goal is to create a more secure environment for the 2020 U.S. elections.

Other Important Considerations

While we’re focusing on how to keep our servers secure and away from online black markets, there are other important considerations that you need to make when it comes to keeping your website safe from hacker attacks. For example, your site’s host must have a minimum of 256-bit SSL security, a firewall, virus scanning, and backup system. A solid firewall will protect your site from cyberattacks by preventing unknown devices or IP addresses from accessing your server, while virus scanning helps ensure that any malware on your server will be detected and eliminated before it does any serious damage. Finally, a reliable storage solution like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud Platform is worth considering to save your website’s content in case your host goes down for whatever reason.

To be extra safe, you could consider using a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt all your traffic to and from your server, as well as using two-factor authentication whenever possible. Two-factor authentication helps protect your account by requiring you to enter a code that’s sent to your phone along with your account login details. It’s a great way to further protect your account information, as well as the information that you share on the internet, by requiring more than one method of verification.

In the next section, I’ll discuss some inexpensive yet effective ways to secure your website.

Secure Your Website: The Basics

Before we get started, I want to make sure that you understand the basics of secure coding and web security in general. If you’re new to the field, then it might be a good idea to read our guide to website security or the free ebook, More Than Meets The Eye. It’s a good primer on the topic and covers all the basic information that you need to know.

To prevent cyberattacks, your website needs to be coded in a secure manner. You’ve got two basic choices here: You can either use a secure coding library, which a lot of hosting providers have integrated into their platforms, or you can use a separate application (like a VPN) to encrypt your traffic.

When it comes to using the latter approach, you need to make sure that your selected VPN provides an adequate level of encryption. Most companies that provide VPN services offer 256-bit AES encryption, which is considered to be one of the most secure systems. When shopping for a VPN, make sure that the company that you’re investigating has a proven record of protecting patient data and keeping log files confidential. If a company cannot guarantee the security of your data, then it may be a good idea to look for another alternative.

Use A VPN

With I Love Lucy, the saying goes, “When you’re in the hot tomato, you’ve got to keep moving or you’ll bake.” The same goes for your website and your digital life in general when you’re connected to the internet. While we want to stay connected to online communities and social media platforms that we love, we also don’t want to put ourselves or our families in any danger, especially when it comes to cybercrime. VPNs are great at preventing internet censorship and giving you the freedom to access content that you want, when you want it. They also provide security and confidentiality for when you’re shopping online or accessing your bank accounts.

In some situations, using a VPN can even prevent you from being hacked. A VPN will encrypt your connection to the internet, so any third-party that wants to access your data will have a difficult time doing so. When you use a VPN, you are acting as though you are a different person every time that you connect to the internet. This makes it harder for criminals to track your activities, as they’ll have no idea who they’re dealing with. Every time that you connect to the internet, you’re changing your IP address, which is your “digital street address.” This is a numerical identifier that identifies every device (computers, cell phones, etc.) that connects to the internet. When you connect to the internet without a VPN, your IP address is temporarily fixed to a specific range of numbers, often resulting in you being tracked by law enforcement or hackers alike.

The most popular and simplest way of using a VPN is through a browser extension. Most major browsers (like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari) come with built-in VPNs that you can use to connect to the internet with the click of a button. Simply click the button to enable the service for that specific browser, and you’re good to go. Once it’s enabled, you’ll see a padlock in the address bar, which indicates that you’re connected to a VPN.

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