Best Secret Hiding Places: Dead Space

Burglars know where you hide stuff. That key under the mat or in the flower pot or the jewelry in the dresser draw or the cash in the cookie jar. But there are better ways to do things. A heavy fire retardant safe bolted to the floor is best. And there are other options too.

We have dead space all over our homes. If you are handy, this dead space can become handy.

  1. Walls: There is a 16 inch center to center void in most of your homes walls made up of 2x4s and sheetrock. Newer homes built in the last 30-40 years have sheetrock opposed to horse hair plaster. Sheetrock is much easier to cut out and make a faux access panel.  This is a great hiding place for anything including long items like rifles and shotguns.
  2. Stairs: Underneath stairs there is often a big void as big as the tread itself. This isn’t always the case so consider drilling a hole before you go ripping up a tread.
  3. Staircases: Underneath many staircases is a closet of some kind meant to fill the big void the staircase creates. But there is always an additional void that gets boarded up because it’s too low to the ground to be effective space for a closet.
  4. Kitchen cabinets: In many homes the tops of kitchen cabinets are exposed giving plenty of space up top to lay things flat. In other cases the tops of the cabinets meet sheetrock that meets the ceiling. This can be a big void. Cut a hole in the top of a cabinet and put stuff up there, then seal the hole with a panel. The very bottom of cabinets have a similar void.
  5. Electrical outlets: Because your walls are hollow making a small hiding place out of a fake electrical outlet is easy. Hardware stores have all you need to cut a hole, put in a deep outlet box and put a non useable outlet or switch in.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist toHome Security Source discussingADT Pulse on Fox News Live. Disclosures

Social Security Number: All-Purpose Identifier

Your Social Security number was never meant to serve the various functions it is used for today. Over the past 70 years, the Social Security number has become our de facto national ID. The numbers were originally issued in the 1930s, to track income for Social Security benefits. But “functionality creep,” which occurs when an item, process, or procedure ends up serving a purpose it was never intended to perform, soon took effect.

Banks, motor vehicle registries, doctors’ offices, insurance companies, and even utilities often require a Social Security number to do business. Why do they need it? Sometimes it’s because your Social Security number is attached to government records like taxes or criminal records, but most often it’s because the number is attached to your credit file.

The IRS adopted our Social Security numbers as identifiers for our tax files about 50 years or so ago. Around the same time, banks began using Social Security numbers to report interest payments, and so on.

All the while, Social Security numbers were required for all workers, so their Social Security benefits could be paid. Most people were assigned a number when they applied, sometime around the age of 16. This was until the 1980s, when the IRS began issuing Social Security numbers to track children and babies who were claimed as dependents. By the late ‘90s, it was standard for most hospitals to provide Social Security number application to new moms.

A federal law enacted in 1996 determined that Social Security numbers should be used for “any applicant for a professional license, driver’s license, occupational license, recreational license or marriage license.” The number can be used and recorded by creditors, the Department of Motor Vehicles, whenever a cash transaction exceeds $10,000, and in military matters.

All this leads up to the unfortunate realization that your Social Security number is out there in hundreds, or even thousands of places. It is most definitely not private, nor can it be adequately protected. It’s just like a credit card number. You give it out, you hope the person or company is responsible with it, you hope it’s not breached, but all you can do is monitor your identity’s health and, if your identity is ever stolen, take the appropriate steps in response.

Be sure you have active, comprehensive protection for all of your devices.  McAfee All Access is the only product that lets individuals and families protect a wide variety of Internet-enabled devices, including PCs, Macs, smartphones, tablets, and netbooks, for one low price.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Evangelist for McAfee.   See him discuss the use of Social Security numbers as national identification on Fox News. (Disclosures)

Home Invader/Killer Says He’s Done It Before

There’s no need to live in fear. And there is a need to take responsibility for your family’s security by investing in a home security system and take some control over your personal security.

Convicted killer and home invader on death row Steven Hayes apparently wrote letters confessing to up to 17 murders of women over the course of his miserable life.

The New Haven register reports he noted “Yes, I’ve killed before,” Hayes bragged. “I have 17 kills throughout the Northeast United States. Perfect victims and well executed, controlled endeavors.”

Hayes partnered with Joshua Komisarjevsky in the “Petit home invasion” which has become known as one of the most brutal highly publicized home invasions ever, where a mom and her two daughters were killed as the Dr. dad lay beaten and bloody in the basement.

Hayes purportedly wrote in a letter “I’ve searched my whole life for someone who could embrace and had the capacity for evil as I possess, I thought I finally found it in Josh.”

Apparently Hayes played the father figure role and Komisarjevsky served as his evil apprentice. But in the letters Hayes wrote “But events show Josh, while (he) had the proper evil intent, lacked in the most serious aspects, commitment and control.”

He further wrote “the Petit home invasion was a dry run in the partnership between Josh and myself. I do now realize that had we gotten away, I would have killed Josh. He was not even close to being worthy of my partnership.”

The letters go on to describe in painful detail how Hayes selected his victims one by one in a process that allowed him to avoid detection for almost 20 years.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to Home Security Source discussing Home Invasions on Montel Williams. Disclosures

6 More Holiday Shopping Tips

My goal is to not enter a single mall this holiday season. If I can do the majority of my holiday shopping at trusted online retailers, and the rest at Costco, then I’ve done well. To me, malls seem to be places for people with lots of time on their hands to drive around looking for parking spots and then stand in line with other people who apparently all enjoy being annoyed by each other’s pushiness. But maybe that’s just me.

Keep safe and sane this holiday season:

1. Look for indications of online security. Depending on your browser, there may be an icon of a yellow lock at the top of the window, near the address bar, or at the bottom, near the taskbar. If the website is secure, the yellow lock should be closed. Some browsers use a color coding system, displaying red to indicate that a website is not secure and may potentially be infected, or green to indicate that it’s okay.

2. Update your operating system. If your computer’s operating system is out of date, it may invite trouble when heading out to the wild, wild web. Go to your security center to download the latest critical security patches.

3. Update your browser. While your operating system may be up to date, which would mean that Internet Explorer is most likely up to date as well, if you are using Chrome or Firefox, you may need to update manually. Select “About” in your browser’s toolbar to check for updates.

4. Protect your computer with antivirus software. Antivirus protection that includes a firewall will, in most cases, shield you from “drive by downloads” and other malware. Even a major online retailer with a secure website can be vulnerable to criminal hackers.

5. Beware of phantom websites. Criminals love to pull the wool over unsuspecting eyes. One technique is to use “black-hat SEO” to place fake websites at the top of organic search results. Customers who attempt to make purchases via these fake websites are unknowingly transmitting credit card numbers directly to the hackers, and it’s safe to assume they’ll never receive the products they believe they’ve purchased.

6. Check credit card statements often. I still have to search the Internet for the names of unfamiliar retailers that appear on my credit card statements with unauthorized charges. Check your statements online weekly, and refute unauthorized charges within 60 days.

Most major online retailers are already using multiple sophisticated fraud prevention procedures to protect you. Oregon-based iovation Inc. is one hot technology company offering a device reputation service that alerts businesses to suspicious behavior such as someone attempting to hijack your account or use your stolen credentials (and  many others’) to steal from online businesses.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses credit and debit card fraud on CNBC. Disclosures

Stalkers Bad Tasting Lollipop

What I love about the internet is the ability to learn, grow, create, share and so many other verbs. What I hate is the creepiness of the internet and the weirdness of coming in contact with trench coat wearing freakazoids.

A new website called “Take This Lollipop” (TTL) is another reason to have ahome security alarm. TTL brings together everything I love and hate in one convenient place.

Through a very well produced and very “dark” video, you will get a sense of what a twisted predator may be doing when stalking their prey using technology.

If you dare to connect your Facebook account to TTL you will experience a front seat theater ticket to a movie about you being stalked by a sweaty gross man with nasty dirty fingernails slithering through your Facebook account photos and looking at all your friends and the locations you have been. What’s worse is as the film progresses he gets angrier as he drives his car to where you are.

Location sharing in social media has never been a good idea for this reason. Sharing family photos, home addresses, kids names, etc has always been a little risky. Friending freaky people or complete strangers goes against everything Mom ever taught you. All I’m saying is, yes, this is only a move, it’s not real, but the lessons of it are.

Oh, and if you don’t want to connect your Facebook to TTL, you can watch some other poor soul get stalked HERE.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to Home Security Source discussing sharing too much information online on Fox News.Disclosures.



6 Tips for Cyber Monday

Bad guys know perfectly well that when the online bargains begin after Thanksgiving, specifically, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, you will be providing your credit card number to retailers all over the world.

1. Go big. Do your online business with major retailers, or those you already know, like, and trust. The chances of a major online retailer stiffing you, or of their database being compromised, are slimmer than those of an unknown.

2. Do your homework. If you search for a particular product and wind up at an unfamiliar website, do some research on the retailer before putting down your credit card number. Search for the company’s name and web address to see if there have been complaints.

3. Don’t give out more personal data than necessary. Many retailers require your name, address, phone number, and credit card information. This is normal. But if you are asked for anything beyond that, like bank account numbers or your Social Security number, run hard and fast.

4. Vary your passwords. Often, online retailers will ask you to register with their website when you make your first purchase. Never register using the same password you’ve already used for another website. Otherwise, if one website is hacked, your password could be used to infiltrate your other accounts.

5. Use HTTPS sites. Websites that have a secure checkout process, with “https://” in the web address (as opposed to “http://”) are safer.

6. Print out and save online receipts. Keeping track of what you bought, where, and for how much can become confusing when making multiple purchases online. You need to pay close attention to your purchases in order to reconcile your credit card statements.

Smart retailers are already protecting consumers behind the scenes by implementing multiple layers of fraud protection. One very effective fraud detection technology is the use of device identification and device reputation to alert businesses to known fraudsters on their site. iovation Inc. provides this service, taking it another level to analyzing the device’s reputation by assessing risk on each transaction.

“The most reputable online sites all ramp up their security processes during the holidays,” says Molly O’Hearn, iovation’s VP of Operations & Co-founder. “This is a very good thing for online consumers because this is the time of year that your identity and credit card information is most at risk.”

Whether you are buying electronics as gifts this holiday season, or sports and entertainment tickets for friends and family, iovation is working hard in the background of these sites to keep the bad guys out so you can have a safe and fun experience.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses credit card fraud on NBC Boston. Disclosures

Serious Considerations When Building a Panic Room

A “fortified environment” is what it is known as. A safe haven or “safe room” buys you time in the event of brutal home invasion where people are tied up, raped and murdered. Like this one.  A safe room is also a layer of protection in the event of manmade or natural disasters.

Envision you are home and the home security alarm goes off because some drug crazed axe, knife and gun wielding bunch of lunatics smash down your door with the intent of doing very bad things to your family. This is when a fortified environment would help you survive.

Features of a safe room include:

Reinforced doors. These may be steal fire rated doors or ones lined with steel plate. The frames are also beefed up with door brace technology.

Reinforced walls, ceiling, floors. This can be anything from extra layers of plywood, sheet metal, steel plate, concrete or bullet resistant acrylic (plastic) or Lexan sheet.

Electronics. What safe room wouldn’t be complete without wireless internet and mobile communications?

Security systems. A monitored home security system complete with security cameras and back up batteries. All of which are in some way protected from intruders.

Self defense equipment. This can be anything from non-lethal to lethal.

Nourishment. You may be in your safe room for hours to days. Non perishable canned foods, and water is a must.

Gas masks. In the event your home invaders (or nuclear fallout) try to smoke you out, a gas mask is a nice touch.

Emergency first-aid kit. And assortment of bandages, ointments etc. Put some trash bags in there too. Trust me.

A simple enough strategy when installing a safe room in an existing home is to either install in your bedroom, basement or retrofit a walk-in closet.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist toHome Security Source discussingADT Pulse on Fox News. Disclosures

The Evolution of Holiday Thievery

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, kicks off the holiday shopping season. Retailers advertise Black Friday bargains in order to lure you through their doors.

As far back as I can remember, police have been warning of thieves who target cars in parking lots, smashing windows to steal shopping bags left in plain sight. Then, we’d be warned that as the Christmas lights went up, thieves would target the wrapped gifts underneath the tree. I thought, “It can’t get worse than this?”

Then Cyber Monday came along. It was born as a marketing opportunity that has taken on a life of its own over the past five or six years. Online retailers promote their Cyber Monday offers throughout the fall, creating hype that whips shoppers into a frenzy. It’s become as essential to the retail community as Black Friday.

Now the warnings are different: no longer so focused on crime in the physical world, but instead, on threats in the virtual world.

When shopping online, you risk unintentionally visiting an infected website, which could infect your PC with keylogging spyware, which would be used to steal your data. Or you might provide your credit card information to a legitimate online merchant that later falls victim to a data breach. Another risk is that you might order a particular product but receive something of lesser quality, or a different item entirely, and then have to contend with poor customer service.

And, of course, your identity might get stolen. Lovely. My, how times have changed!

Online retailers would spread more holiday cheer if they did their part to protect the public from credit card fraud by implementing device reputation. Device reputation, offered by iovation Inc., taps into a global device identification network that also contains millions of verified fraud and abuse events such as chargebacks, identity theft, shipping fraud on those devices. The device’s reputation is assessed in real time when a transaction is being attempted on a retailer’s website.  And when the device (such as a computer, phone or tablet) has no prior history, iovation profiles its potential risk for the online retailer, identifying high-risk activity before the transaction is approved or product shipped.

Stopping fraudulent transactions upfront spares many holiday revelers the burden of covering the bill for the gift lists of cyber criminals.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses identity theft  in front of the National Speakers Association. (Disclosures)

Holiday Headaches Coming for Consumers

Gearing up for the holidays, consumers are getting ready to pull a Wilma Flintstone and, “Charge it!” Many don’t realize that you cannot protect your credit card number. Every time you use a credit card, you increase the chances of that card number being used fraudulently.

  1. When handing your card to a clerk or cashier, pay close attention. The card should be swiped through a point of sale terminal or keyboard card reader once, maybe twice. If your card is swiped through an additional reader, the card number may have been stolen.
  2. Shop only at trusted sites. Phantom websites appear online all year round. They look legitimate, resembling well-known online retailers. But only do business those you recognize. Established online merchants are best.
  3. Unsolicited emails that request sensitive data such as credit card numbers or lead you to a too-good-to-be-true offer are most likely phishing emails. Don’t disclose your information, and don’t click unknown links.
  4. Check your credit card statements daily, if possible. Once a week is sufficient. Refute any unauthorized withdrawals or transactions within the time limit stipulated by your bank. For most credit cards, it’s 60 days, and for debit cards the limit can be 30 days or less.

Internet crime schemes steal millions of dollars annually from victims.  If you are looking for more helpful tips, the Internet Crime Complaint Center is a great resource. Their site provides preventative measures that help you be more informed prior to making purchases on the Internet.

Holiday schemes will be in full force this year.  Charge or purchase wisely.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses identity theft  in front of the National Speakers Association. (Disclosures)

Lonely Hearts Target of Dating Scams

Online dating websites are aware that scammers use their platforms to defraud men and women looking for love. With the holidays around the corner, many unsuspecting people will be used and abused by scammers, who will break their hearts, their bank accounts, or both.

Many of the stories of heartbreak and fraud look like this:

“After chatting via email, they arranged to meet, but their plans ‘collapsed’ when he told her that he had been held by tax authorities over an issue while he was attempting to fly out on business.

The so-called ‘Mr. Fields’ then asked the nurse for financial help, using emails from his fake solicitor to convince the nurse that this was merely an oversight and that his client would pay her back.”

No matter who someone is, what they say, or how they look, don’t automatically trust them.

Discussion of money or loans in any capacity is a red flag.

Don’t let your heart get in the way of basic common sense.

Sometimes loneliness trumps our ability to see the truth. Keep your head up and be attentive to people’s intentions.  In context of the “Color Code of Mental Awareness” this would mean operating in the yellow zone (not in the white zone) while interacting with others on dating and social networking sites.

One company looking out for you behind the scenes is iovation Inc.  They work with dating sites and social networks around the world to rid their sites of bad actors.  They have stopped more than 50 million attempts of online scams and solicitations, spam, identity mining and fake profiles for their clients. All of this happens behind the scenes to keep the site and its customers safe.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert contributor to iovation, discusses Dating Security on E! True Hollywood Stories.  Disclosures