Securing New Digital Devices

Laptops, desktops, Macs, mobiles, and tablets are on many people’s wish lists this holiday season. Once these shiny new devices are connected to the Internet, they will be under siege by malware created by criminals in order to steal identities.

According to a recent McAfee survey, 60% of consumers now own at least three digital devices, and 25% own at least five. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of these new opportunities by widening their nets to target a variety of devices and platforms. McAfee Labs is reporting an increase in Mac and mobile malware, while PC threats also continue to escalate.

Mobiles: Mobile malware is on the rise, and Android is now the most targeted platform.  Attacks aimed at the Android platform increased 76% from the first to second quarters of 2011. Malicious applications are a main threat area, so be careful of third party applications, and only download from a reputable app store. Read other users’ reviews and make sure you are aware of the access permissions being granted to each app.

Macs, iPads, and iPhones: Unfortunately, the popularity of Apple computers and devices has led to escalated threats. As of late 2010, there were 5,000 pieces of malware targeting the Mac platform, and they have been increasing at a rate of about 10% each month.

Since more threats are being aimed at this platform, consider installing security software for your Mac as a proactive measure. Check out Apple’s new iCloud service, which provides several tools for syncing, backing up, and securing data, and consider a product that offers remote locate, wipe, and restore features in case of loss.

Laptops and desktops: Your security software should include, at a minimum, antivirus software with cloud computing, a two-way firewall, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, and safe search capabilities. Additional levels of protection include anti-spam, parental controls, wireless network protection, and anti-theft protection to encrypt sensitive financial documents.

Gaming and entertainment devices: Remember that the Nintendo Wii and 3DS, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 are now Internet-connected, making them vulnerable to many of the same threats as PCs. To protect your investment, make reliable backup copies of your games. Take advantage of built-in parental controls that can help shield kids from violent games or limit when the device can be used.

Some multiplayer games allow kids to play with strangers over the Internet, so if you are a parent, consider employing monitoring tools. Connect your device to secure Wi-Fi networks only, and don’t store personal information on your device.

Removable storage devices: Flash drives and portable hard drives require technologies to protect your data. Consider using a secure, encrypted USB stick, which scrambles your information to make it unreadable if your device is lost or stolen. Install security software that protects portable hard drives, and set a password.  Since removable storage devices are small and easily stolen, you should not leave them unattended.

Learn more tips from McAfee here:

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Evangelist to McAfee. See him discussing identity theft on YouTube.(Disclosures)

Managing Family Time On The iPad or iPhone

On our way home from a recent family vacation, my two year old grew understandably anxious and uncooperative while waiting for a flight in an airport terminal. So I handed over my iPhone, hoping to distract her. Within seconds, she had launched the photo application and begun scrolling through the videos of our trip. She’d watch a video, giggle a little, and then scroll to the next. This went on for about ten minutes.

During this time, a small crowed gathered near my kid. I realized that they were marveling at my daughter’s ability to work an iPhone like an adult. But while she may be pretty smart, it was Steve Jobs’ brilliance that created this magical device that passes both the grandmother and toddler tests.

Parents everywhere are equipping their families with digital devices for numerous reasons. There are many advantages and some disadvantages to this practice. Most, but not all, of the applications available on the iPhone and iPad are more or less harmless. The web as whole, though, is fraught with content a child should not be exposed to. The following are helpful tips to address these concerns:

1. Engage in ongoing dialog. Become as savvy about these devices as your child may be, and spend at least as much time using them as they do, if not more. Set firm boundaries regarding what is and is not permitted.

2. Enable restrictions. Go to Settings > General > Restrictions and apply a passcode to any applications your kids shouldn’t be using. Children shouldn’t be exploring the Internet via Safari or YouTube on their own. Lock down the App store, too, otherwise this could become costly.

3. Set appropriate times. We learned the hard way that any digital activities in the early morning can make it difficult to get them ready for school. The same goes for right before dinner, homework, or bed. It’s tough to peel a kid away and readjust their senses to their real world responsibilities.

4. Set time limits. Addiction to gaming and virtual worlds is a real thing. Allowing a child unlimited access to television is bad enough. Allowing a child unlimited access to the digital world could cause behavior issues. We don’t allow any more than 15 or 20 minutes per hour on any game, and no more than 45 minutes in a day. Usually, they don’t want to spend more time than that, because they have so many other fun activities.

For more tips on protecting your kids online, visit

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto. Disclosures

How to Prevent Gift Card Scams

Sleazy Grinchy scammy conmen are also in the process of providing holiday gifts for their families. But the way they do it is by taking hard earned money from good people.

Scammers know that almost 100 billion dollars is spent annually on gift cards and studies show that almost 2/3rds of consumers prefer to receive gift cards. The math of all this equals opportunity for criminals.

Scamming gift cards is surprisingly easy. It works like this: gift cards have identifying numbers just like a credit card those numbers may be displayed on the card or embedded in the magnetic strip.  Thieves will go into a retailer that has gift card displays and take a picture of the card itself or skim the card to get the data off it.

Most gift cards can be tracked at an associated website or telephone number that has the remaining card balance. Scammers will continually track that number waiting for it to be activated. Once activated they clone the card and use its full balance at a retailer. Sometimes store clerks will take a newly activated card and pass off a blank one.

Protect yourself:

Rack displays of gift cards are shaky. If the store has them behind a counter get them there. Like in a mall kiosk. Otherwise the card could have been skimmed.

Beware of cards that have been messed with. If the packaging has been removed or the numbers have been exposed that could spell trouble. Look for activation stickers that look like they’ve been peeled off and put back on.

Don’t buy gift-cards from auction sites. There are just too many risks associated with auctioning money.

Cash it in. Whenever receiving a gift card, spend it ASAP.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to Home Security Source discussing home security and identity theft on TBS Movie and a Makeover. Disclosures.

Banks and Credit Card Issuers Move Toward Chip and PIN

EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, refers to the chip and PIN credit card technology commonly used in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Credit cards that incorporate an embedded microprocessor chip are far more secure than any other form of credit card currently available, including the standard magnetic striped cards that are all too easy to skim at ATMs and point of sale terminals.

Major banks and retailers are now pushing very hard to make EMV the new standard in the United States. Visa recently announced plans to expand their Technology Innovation Program to the U.S., which will encourage retailers to support cards with microchips by “[eliminating] the requirement for eligible merchants to annually validate their compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard for any year in which at least 75% of the merchant’s Visa transactions originate from chip-enabled terminals.” This will go into effect October 1, 2012 for merchants whose point-of-sale terminals accept both contact and contactless chips.

Meanwhile, Citi has announced the launch of its own Citi Corporate Chip and PIN card, which is designed for U.S. cardholders who travel abroad. Bank of America has made a similar announcement of its expanded credit card technology aimed at international travelers. And Wells Fargo is already testing EMV cards in the United States, with its Visa Smart Card, which includes the traditional magnetic stripe as well as a microprocessor chip, in order to make the cards flexible and useable around the world. Wells Fargo’s pilot program includes 15,000 customers who travel regularly.

With all these major players making significant strides to embrace EMV chip technology, it’s only a matter of time before full adoption becomes inevitable.

Consumers would be smart to take advantage of any pilot program available to them. EMV chip and PIN technology is more secure, and it also works better internationally than the old-school magnetic stripe.

For more information on the benefits of EMV chip technology and to show your support, visit, from JustAskGemalto, to let your voice be heard and share your stories.

Robert Siciliano, personal security expert contributor to Just Ask Gemalto. Disclosures


How to Save Money With a Home Security System

The best thing about a recession is it smartens people up. It makes us tighten our belts and shed excess. I’m definitely guilty of piling on the debt circa 2004-8 in the irrational exuberance years.  But as soon as the ball dropped I made significant change.  Immediately I looked at all the monthly recurring fees and bills and cut down on about 80% of them.

I also have a monthly bill for home security alarm monitoring. But not once did I contemplate eliminating that. Actually I upgraded my system to one that’s more efficient that has more options too. My ADT Pulse system has an internet based dashboard that allows me to set schedules for lights, heat and cooling so I sat down and looked at how I could make this system pay for itself.

First thing I did was set schedules for the heat. I have a gas fired hot air system and gas isn’t cheap, nor is the electric to run it. It’s common knowledge that home heating should be set to 68 degrees, so I set my heat to run at 68 starting at the hour of 6 am, which is generally when everyone’s up and about. The 68 degrees runs all the way until 10pm because there is always someone home. Then I set the heat to drop to 64 degrees on the first floor and 66 in the bedrooms on the second floor.  Nobody but the dog is on the first floor and she’s got a fur coat. And everyone in the bedrooms is under blankets and has enough body heat to handle the 2 degree drop.

Over the past year it has become evident that this simple tweak in my heat scheduling has saved me money in excess of what my home security system costs. Nice!

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