NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Federal officials warn of a constant threat after Louisiana residents lost millions of dollars to cyber criminals last year, and new FBI data shows a large number of people are targeted at work.
"The vulnerabilities are large. The targets are large, and the amount of people who are interested in stealing from people is large," New Orleans FBI Bureau Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Sallet said.
He warns most people become a potential target as soon as they wake up.
"What's the first thing you did? You probably pulled up your phone and probably looked at your email messages and your text messages. You already started your cyber footprint from the minute you woke up this morning," Sallet said.
FBI statistics show Louisianians reported losing more than $8 million to cyber criminals in 2015, and that is only the victims who reported a crime to the agency. Many do not.
The results also revealed the place victims got hit the hardest is at work. When a business' email system was compromised last year, Louisiana users and companies lost $2.7 million, and even FBI offices are not off-limits to hackers.
"We are not immune," Sallet said. "Myself, my family, the employees of this division, we are constantly receiving fraudulent solicitations or being potentially victimized by internet crimes."
"It's not a big deal until it happens to you," C3 Security owner Nam Nguyen said. "You cannot browse the internet safely because there is always some kind of risk to it."
Nguyen says the technology used by criminals is so sophisticated all users have to do is click a link, an ad or just open an email from a friend who has been unknowingly hacked and information is compromised.
"All you did was go to your regular website and you load up that page and it has advertisement on there and that advertisement code starts hacking your computer and doing stuff to your computer," Nguyen said. "One day your computer is working and suddenly, it's not."
Nguyen warns of a growing and popular way to attack victims through ransomware. A criminal locks up someone's hard drive and essentially holds it for ransom until the victim pays up.
In February, cyber criminals used ransomware at a California hospital.
Nguyen says a ransomware attack recently happened to a business in the New Orleans area.
"People can go online and look up online safety," Nguyen said. "There's a lot of good people with good tips out there showing users what to look for and how to be careful and be a little bit more cautious when they're opening an email or searching the web."
"People can target you from their bedroom in Romania just as easily as they can target you from next door in Louisiana," Sallet said. "Cyber crime has become that frontier. It's that open frontier to target people."
The FBI receives nearly 300,000 reports of cyber crime a year on the agency's website.
Experts say the best way to protect yourself is to get malware protection with a firewall and stress the promise of something too good to be true, most likely is.