Cyber-crime Has Changed – What You Can Do Today

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by Melissa Holder

Our recent episode of The Forum we reviewed James Lyne’s September, 2013 TEDtalks video, Everyday cybercrime  – and what you can do about it. In this information packed video Mr. Lynes give some shocking stats, such as:

⦁    There are 8 new internet users every second of every day.
⦁    Every day over 250,000 new pieces of malware (viruses and hacks) are created.
⦁    30,000 newly infected websites daily – 80% of these are SMALL BUSINESS sites

Cyber-crime has changed much in just the last year.  Real-life risks that you and almost everyone else have not considered intensify from that lack of awareness.  Cyber-criminals bank on it – literally. Yet, this rapidly growing problem (especially for small business) is easily fixed by sharing information. We will share with you valuable tips you can use to protect yourself, your business, your family / friends and your high tech toys right now. Below you will find direct links to some protection and scanning programs, informational sites and educational materials that will help you stay safe on your internet adventures.

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What you do on your cell phone can and most often does make you an easy target

  Every time you hop on the internet, either from a computer, laptop or mobile device (phone, tablet/iPad) your personal information goes out, whether you know it or not. This means more of your personal information is now available to anyone who is looking and knows how to do a Google search – cyber criminals.

You may have noticed the current trend of linking all your online accounts and activities – whether it’s using your Facebook or Google+ account to sign-up / log on;  or  a mega-service like Google automatically linking everything from your YouTube account   to your g-mail account. We also now have the Cloud, Google’s online storage, and many other all-in-one convenience services.  Our phones, laptops, computers, as well as some TVs and gaming consoles can now all sync all of your accounts, so you have all your data available easily everywhere all the time. You will do very well to consider carefully the balance between convenience and security.  This is a trade-off, to be sure, but one you need to consciously make – not accidentally.

Think about that for a moment. All your private information, files, contacts, emails… everything all stored in cyberspace.  Now let’s consider the fact that in the uncharted world of cyberspace – there is NO totally secure system available to keep you safe. There is ALWAYS a way either through a hole in the programming or another weakness in EVERY program/system – and there always will be.  Everything you put out is accessible by ANYONE with the skillset and desire to get it – enter today’s cybercriminal.  For those doubting Thomas’ out there here’s some food for thought,  if government and other huge organizations with tons of expensive high tech security programs and professionals working to protect them can be hacked, so can your cell phone. You must admit – your phone, laptop or iPad is probably a much easier target.

So what is the solution? When creating an account somewhere and given the option – use email as the way to sign in, rather than your Facebook, Twitter or Google+ account. If someone gains access to just one of your social accounts, they now have easy access to all of the accounts that you use it to log into.   Also think about what information you want to have in each of your online accounts and what/ where you want linked to it – if anything. Please keep in mind no matter how secure you feel the information is, someone can possibly get hold of it.

We live in a wireless society now. We access the internet from our computers, laptops, eReaders while at home from our wireless network.  Our phones and tablets also go online when we are out and about via Wi-Fi hotspots, such as Starbucks or the grocery store.  All of these devices keep a record of the Wi-Fi signals we have connected to. Many of us name our home wireless networks with an easily identifiable name.

This is a major safety issue. You wouldn’t give out your home address to lots of strangers, yet we unwittingly give out our GPS co-ordinates to them? How do we do this? Let’s consider for a moment – a would-be crook stops you and asks to borrow your cell, or worse yet asks this of your child, they now have access to the phone number, the email address, and all of the connected Wi-Fi signals. All that crook has to do now is to find the location of those signals, one of which is your home – now he knows where you live and can watch your habits. You have just become a target for any number of nasty non-cyber personal crimes.  And that is just one way we give out our information.

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Mobility makes what we do faster and more convenient than ever – REALLY?!

When we think of online safety and protecting ourselves, we usually focus on our computers and laptops.  With today’s wireless world, the term “online safety” has taken on whole new meaning that you may not have thought much about. Hackers and online predators are much more advanced in technology and skills than the average user. Studies have shown that the average user is now more savvy in ways to hop online from various devices, but that we are MUCH more ignorant of how to do so safely.

It’s really cool that your mobile devices use GPS to tell your friends on social media where you are having dinner or where a picture was taken and who you were with. Have you thought about what information you are giving would be crooks when you do that? On your phones and tablets/ipads make sure your GPS is turned off unless you are actively getting directions from an online map service, for example. When you access your online programming from these devices and your GPS is on, your location at that very moment is posted to the world.

On that note, when you upload photos to social media platforms, every image is tagged with information you can’t see with the naked eye. Some who knows how can easily find the exact location (GPS co-ordinates) and time the photo was taken. Here’s a kicker -and the serial number for the phone used! Once again, particularly for our kids, these images give very direct information to criminals. Yet, with this type of information a different type of criminal joins the cybercriminals we’ve been discussing – predators, are now online.  They too can find a wealth of information from those daily things we do conveniently and carelessly online – those that we don’t think twice about. When you take pictures with your phone, either upload later from another place or upload to your computer and then upload to your social media.

On the show Anita gave a real life example of a friend who had a stalker and didn’t know it until he showed up less than five minutes after she posted an image online. This stalker approached the woman with her name and personal information. This man found out all of her personal information and where he could find her at that moment because she had unknowingly posted her GPS co-ordinates. So, be safe and turn off that GPS until needed – and teach your children to do the same.

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The Importance Scanning and Maintaining Your Internet Devices

Protection starts at home. Relying on the programs pre-installed on your computer, or updates from Microsoft will not protect you from the hackers of today. Microsoft is first target for hackers since it is so widely used. Most people using those products don’t know how to properly protect themselves.  This is a major reason for the rise in popularity of many non-Microsoft operating systems.

When searching for virus and spyware protection/removal programs, please be aware (just as James Lyne mentioned in the video) there are many “programs” out there that are marketed as virus protection – but in reality are viruses themselves.  Not only are you going to infect your devices with these programs, you are paying the crooks for the honor of being attacked!

While most computers these days will alert you when you aren’t protected, all security programs are NOT created equal. Here are the three main tools I use for my own systems and networks and put on the computers and laptops I repair:

1.    AVG for regular protection. If you have Microsoft Windows programs, you automatically receive their Defender program. Since Defender is a Microsoft product, it gets updated when one of their products has been attacked and the vulnerability has been shown. Programs like AVG find out about viruses and hacks long before the hackers release them on the big company programming.

I highly recommend getting and using AVG. AVG also offers virus protection apps for your phones and tablets. Click here to visit the AVG site and download your free version. As a rule AVG (or the anti-virus program you are using) should be run at least once a month. If you are a moderate surfer – scan at least biweekly. If you are an internet junkie, do  a lot of research, or run a business scan your computers/laptops at least once a week.  Apply the same rule of thumb for your phones and tablets

2.    Super-Anti-Spyware for removing tracking and data mining scripts.
The tool I use for removing tracking cookies and data miners is Super Anti-Spyware. I have yet to find a program more effective at removing the tracking and data mining software, that is automatically installed to your computer when you visit many sites, than Super-Anti-Spyware. I use and recommend the same schedule for this program as AVG. Click here to visit the Super-Anti-Spyware site and download your free version.

3.    Malware Bytes is for deep scanning and repairing. Sometimes new to the market viruses and hacks slip through the “regular” scanners. When I receive a computer or laptop with a deep virus on it, and after having gone through the first two, I scan with Malware Bytes. Sometimes new to the market viruses and hacks slip through the “regular” scanners. After years of using this program, I have found it locates those new viruses and malicious software that would otherwise slip through since not enough information is yet available on to remove manually. Malware Bytes seems to be one of the very first companies to find new malware on the market.

With the holidays fast approaching, scams, viruses, hacks, and thefts are going to come at us from every direction. Don’t be afraid of them, or let the fear of them stop you from your usual activities. Simply educate and protect yourself.  Just as you know to lock our car and home – securing your personal information can be simple and easy – with the right information and free tools.

To learn more about what viruses and hacks are being reported on please visit KasperSky.com. They maintain a great database of known viruses and are very quick to add the new ones.  They also provide instructions and tools you can use yourself to manually remove infections. That is handy if you pick up one the automatic programs haven’t caught up to yet.

Till next time, remember, with a bit of knowledge and attention using the right tools you can enjoy your online devices and stay safe at the same time!

Author: Melissa Holder, Google Certified Individual Expert

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