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Cybercrime: how to protect yourself against hacking, phishing, etc.

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Alarming figures indeed: according to the Federal Statistical Office (FSO), some 350,000 Swiss people have fallen victim to online credit card fraud in 2020. Just as many have lost personal documents through virus attacks. On social networks, “Swiss” data are targeted by hackers more often than the European average.

We spoke to Katrin Sprenger (CEO) and Lukas Keller (CFO) from the Zurich-based start-up Silenccio about how users can spot threats and risks on the Internet and protect themselves against online fraudsters’ fiendish tricks. 

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    Silenccio has been working with AXA since 2019. Its innovative online service offers private users and companies alike help and protection in connection with bullying, hacking, phishing, and shopping on the Internet.

Why is cybercrime on the rise?

Katrin Sprenger: It’s safe to assume that the risk of being a victim of cybercrime may increase as Internet use grows. Browsing, shopping, and socializing online are becoming more and more popular and are already part of many people’s daily routine. Whereas people were still very weary just a few years ago as regards entering their credit card details, for example, they now do it a lot, often without a second thought. Both of these factors play into the hands of cybercriminals.

figures on digital offenses

Switzerland's Federal Statistical Office contained figures on cyber crime for the first time in 2021:

  • 24,398 digital offenses were reported (compared with around 32,000 burglaries and walk-in thefts).
  • These are split into three areas: defamation (5.1%), sex offenses (10.7%), and financial crime (84.2%).
  •  Some 16,000 cyber crime cases involved fraud –  mostly in connection with online shops, property advertisements, and love scams.
  • Around 16,000 victims were registered (42% female, 58% male).
  • The solution rate was 31.6%. 

According to Statista, there was a sharp rise in the number of cyber cases in Switzerland during the first few weeks of 2021. A total of 832 cases of cyber crime were reported to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in calendar week 41 (October 11-17), 292 of which involved fraud.

We’ve seen a spate of warnings about phishing e-mails recently. Lukas Keller, what can happen if I open them?

Lukas Keller: Opening a phishing e-mail isn’t a problem in itself. The danger arises when you click on a link in the e-mail without thinking and enter confidential information when prompted. Then the criminals have got what they want: your personal access details. I recommend erring on the side of caution: when you get an e-mail from your bank, for instance, enter the website address you already know manually in the address bar rather than clicking on the link to the site.

What’s the difference between phishing and malware e-mails?

Lukas Keller: Both are e-mail-based forms of attack. The main difference is that a phishing attack is intended to direct you to a website where you enter details that are then saved and misused. Malware e-mails, meanwhile, are intended to infect your computer. What usually happens is that malware is “hidden” in a supposedly harmless attachment like a PDF or Word document. When you click on the attachment, the program installs itself in the background. The aim of this kind of program is either to delete data from your computer or to track down specific data and send it to the cybercriminals.  

Doxing, fuzzing, pharming? In our cybercrime glossary, we explain the most important offences in the field of cybercrime.

How to recognize phishing e-mails

  • The spelling in links is often similar but not identical to the address of the real site. It may just be one letter out, e.g. instead of
  • The site looks genuine at first glance, but not all the menu links work.
  • The e-mail contains spelling mistakes.
  • The sender’s name looks genuine, but the e-mail address doesn’t.
  • The e-mail isn’t written in the language normally used by a company or organization you occasionally exchange e-mail correspondence with. If you communicate with your bank in German, for example, there should be no reason for the bank to suddenly write to you in English. 
  • The e-mail doesn’t contain a personal greeting.
  • The text of the e-mail pressures you into carrying out its instructions as quickly as possible.

Always remember that serious online providers – including banks – will never send you an e-mail asking you to enter your login details on a website.

Lukas Keller, co-founder and CTO of Silenccio

What can I do if I’ve fallen victim to credit card fraud?

Lukas Keller: Online credit card fraud isn’t much different from physically stealing the card itself. That’s why the very first step must be to have the card blocked. The problem on the Internet is that several transactions might have already been booked to the card by the time you realize that your details have been stolen. Look closely at each booking, go to the sites concerned, and try to get the orders canceled.

On some sites, you can see the IP address and location the order was placed from. If, for example, a transaction was made from Brazil, but you can prove that you were in Switzerland at the time, most website operators will show goodwill. It the transactions can’t be canceled, you’ll need to contact your credit card provider. They’ll cover the cost in most cases. 

How often should I change my password for e-banking or my favorite online shops?

Lukas Keller: Your first question shouldn’t be “How often should I change my password?” but “How strong is my password?” If your password’s “1234”, it can be hacked much more quickly than one made up of eight or more letters, numbers, and special characters. Most devices these days suggest a secure password like this whenever you set up a new account. On top of this, it’s always a good idea to use two-factor authentication where it’s offered. If you also change your passwords for sites you use regularly every six to eight weeks, you should be safe. 

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    Creating a secure password

    E-banking, your favorite online shops, and e-mail accounts: passwords are now an essential part of our digital lives. Katrin Sprenger explains how to create a strong password and avoid mistakes and sheds light on some useful tools for storing passwords.


According to a study by the Federal Statistical Office, Swiss people are affected by cybercrime very frequently by European standards. Why?

Lukas Keller: The FSO believes the main reason is that the Swiss are so lax when it comes to protecting their data. In 2019, only two thirds of users were using security software, down from three quarters in 2014.

I think it can also be explained by a combination of three factors. Firstly, Switzerland was quick to embrace the digital age, so it has a large number of potential targets despite its relatively small population. Secondly, high income levels make the Swiss attractive targets for cybercriminals.

Add in users’ general sense of security, which makes them complacent about protecting their own online data, and this could be why Swiss people fall victim to cybercrime more often than other Europeans. 

In your view, are there any online threats that are being completely underestimated or that people don’t even know about?

Katrin Sprenger: One of the most frequently underestimated threats is identity theft. That’s when criminals steal personal details such as your date of birth, address, and perhaps even a scan of your ID or birth certificate. They can get hold of these relatively quickly if they succeed in hacking your e-mail account. Most of us have sent a scan of one of these documents by e-mail at some point. The criminals then piece together the victim’s identity and offer it for sale on the Darknet or can use it to conclude contracts in the victim’s name. Their main aim is to make money from these stolen identities. 

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