They say knowledge is power, but that power is not always wielded by the noble and the honest among us. Everyday new techniques are being devised to obtain personal information for nefarious uses. I will describe the many ways criminals attempt to gain access to the lives of thousands of unsuspecting individuals, and the different safeguards they can put in place to minimize the threats and possible invasions.
Digital Threats are an increasing danger to everyone who searches the web, no matter the purpose for the surfing. Users face an onslaught of phishing emails trying to deceive them into entering their personal log-in information into what they believe is an actual site, when in fact it is a fake created by criminals to harvest login credentials to allow themselves access to your bank accounts as well as online merchant accounts, which shoppers often save their card information on to make it easier to shop there in the future. Users need to meticulously inspect any emails they may get from banks or merchants to ensure legitimacy. Users should look for spelling errors, inaccurate information, missing logos, and other oddities which are definite clues of false source. They also should contact the alleged sender directly if they are unsure. Legitimate banks will never ask for personal information in an email, nor will online merchants such as Ebay, or Amazon. Same goes for unsolicited phone calls, do not reveal any information to a person on the phone unless the person initiated said phone call. Unless the call was placed with them directly, there is no reason for someone from an organization to call people requesting personal information, and no legitimate company does business in that way. Ordering from illegitimate sites, as opposed to the aforementioned merchants, opens the user up to the same dangers as phishing attacks. When accessing financial institution websites, and online shopping, always look for the s in the http:// prefix of the URL. The s stands for Secure Socket Layer, or SSL, encryption which scrambles the information as it travels from the keyboard to their servers to prevent any outside parties from stealing it.
Viruses and other malicious software
Digital threats are not limited to websites and fake emails, there are maliciously coded programs, such as viruses, malware, and spyware which are designed to bring down computer defenses from the inside, silently spy on users as they surf the web keeping track of their day to day activities, logging keystrokes, and other criminal and destructive actions. The first and most powerful line of defense is anti-virus software, such as Mcafee or Norton’s Utilities. Running regular full computer scans, and diligently updating the software will serve as a powerful preventive measure, but the user will have to do their part to ensure a clean computer system. Be cautious about clicking links in emails even if they came from a family member or friend due to possibility of their account being compromised leading to the email being sent from a malicious source. Same goes for attachments for same reasons. Visiting web sites can lead to infections if the site contains malicious code, or from popups generated from those sites. Users need to be very careful, and smart and cautious when downloading programs and/or files from unknown sites, and should stick to sites they know and trust, as well as have their anti-virus software scan it before downloading. Brower plugins can help screen websites before users even visiting them by displaying various icons next to the site description signaling its safety level and alerting them to potentially unsafe file transfers. Key loggers are a form of spyware, and they are designed to record every stroke typed, and are remotely accessed by hackers giving them passwords, WEP keys, as well as account numbers and PIN numbers innocently typed into the browser. Following the same security procedures previously mentioned will help to guide people safely along the World Wide Web.
Everyday threats in the outside world
Not all threats come in the form of binary code, more often than users realize threats come in the form of people they meet along the way. Laptop theft is a far easier way to steal information, and whole lot faster.
Stolen laptops can be a crippling event for both business and personal users alike. The amount of information someone can glean off of a laptop can be extremely detrimental to the owners finances both immediate and long term, and depending on what’s stored on it, it can lead to home burglary, stalking, or worse for the users family.
Telemarketing fraud is most often run with senior citizens as victims, and come in various forms and techniques designed to trick people into giving up information or handing over hard earned money. Common rules to remember are if someone calls and demands that account numbers, passwords, credit card numbers or other information to be given to them because they claim to be from a legitimate organization, do not give it up, even if they threaten legal action. No organization will ever ask for personal information over the phone unless the person is the one initiating the call. If a person claims to be from the bank, call that bank directly to confirm the person’s identity as well as any issues the person claimed existed with the account.
Paper or plastic is a common question asked in grocery stores, but a more important variation of that question refers to payment methods customers use to pay. It’s a decision shoppers make daily, but not many of them take the necessary required steps to ensure their safety and financial security. Protecting PIN numbers is essential; do not place it on a piece of paper in an insecure location, like envelopes, by a desktop pc or laptop, or in a wallet or purse. Shoppers have to protect their card numbers from “shoulder surfers”, people who watch over customer’s shoulders as they swipe their card to record the shoppers PIN as they enter it, as well as people who pretend to use their cell phones to snap pictures of the cards information. Even innocent looking, unassuming ATMs aren’t safe anymore with the advent of skimmers. Skimmers are molded pieces of plastic that fit over the existing card reader to steal the data stored on the card’s magnetic strip, and then store it remotely to either make dummy cards, or sell it online. Some criminals install pinhead size cameras to record the PIN as it’s entered. Other criminals place a false keypad overlay over the existing pad to record any numbers that are entered as well. They are commonly used in store ATMs and bar machines, but have been found in actual bank lobbies too. Strategies to avoid becoming a victim of these ploys is to be aware of the surroundings, pull on the components of the machine, look for residue of glue and other adhesive materials around the entire front, and also, look around for randomly placed items that could be concealing a camera. Taking these steps and being aware of what’s going on around the area will keep private data, private.