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10 Ways to Prevent Holiday Shopping Scams

The winter holidays: a time for festivities and … fraud-tivities.

Gift Card Grab

Never, ever enter your credit card or other sensitive information to claim a gift card that comes via email.

Never Buy Over Public WiFi

Shopping over public WiFi means your credit card, bank account or login data could get picked up by a cyber thief. Use a VPN.

Coupon Cautious

If a coupon deal seems too good to be true, then assume it is. End of story. Next.

Password Housekeeping

  • Change the passwords for all your sensitive accounts.
  • No two passwords should be the same.
  • Passwords should be a random salad of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols – at least 12 total.
  • A password manager can ease the hassle.

Two Step Verification

  • A login attempt will send a one-time numerical code to the user’s phone.
  • The user must type that code into the account login field to gain access.
  • Prevents unauthorized logins unless the unauthorized user has your phone AND login credentials.

Think Before You Click

  • Never click links that arrive in your in-box that supposedly linking to a reputable retailer’s site announcing a fantastic sale.
  • Kohl’s, Macy’s, Walmart and other giant retailers don’t do this. And if they do, ignore them.
  • So who does this? Scammers. They hope you’ll click the link because it’ll download a virus.
  • The other tactic is that the link will take you to a mock spoofed site of the retailer, lure you into making a purchase, and then a thief will steal your credit card data.

Bank and Credit Card Security

  • Find out what kind of security measures your bank has and then use them such as caps on charges or push notifications.
  • Consider using a virtual credit card number that allows a one-time purchase. It temporarily replaces your actual credit card number and is worthless to a thief.

Job Scams

Forget the online ad that promises $50/hour or $100 for completing a survey. If you really need money then get a real job.

Monthly Self-Exam

For financial health: Every month review all your financial statements to see if there is any suspicious activity. Even an unknown charge for $1.89 is suspicious, because sometimes, crooks make tiny purchases to gage the account holder’s suspicion index. Report these immediately.

Https vs. http

  • The “s” at the end means the site is secure.
  • Do all your shopping off of https sites.
  • In line with this, update your browser as well.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Protect Yourself From Gift Card Scams

So maybe Christmas now means the very predictable gift card swap, but hey, who can’t use a gift card? But beware, there are a ton of scams. This includes physical, not just digital, gift cards.

Regardless of who gave you the card, you should always practice security measures. Below are two common ways that fraudsters operate.

Transform Gift Card to Cash Twice.

If someone gives you a $200 gift card to an electronics store and then it’s stolen, you technically have lost money, as this is the same as someone stealing a wad of cash from your pocket.

Nevertheless, you’ll feel the loss just as much. Crooks who steal gift cards have numerous ways of using them.

  • Joe Thief has plans on buying a $200 item with your stolen gift card from your gym locker.
  • But first he places an ad for the card online, pricing it at a big discount of $130 saying he doesn’t need anything, he just needs money.
  • Someone out there spots this deal and sends Joe the money via PayPal or Venmo.
  • Joe then uses the $200 gift card to buy an item and sells it on eBay
  • And he just netted $130 on selling a stolen gift card that he never shipped.

Infiltration of Online Gift Card Accounts

Joe Thief might also use a computer program called a botnet to get into an online gift card account.

  • You must log into your gift card account with characters.
  • Botnets also log into these accounts. Botnets are sent by Joe Thief to randomly guess your login characters with a brute force attack: a computerized creation of different permutations of numbers and letters – by the millions in a single attack.
  • The botnet just might get a hit – yours.

Here’s How to Protect Yourself

  • Be leery of deals posted online, in magazines or in person that seem too good to be true and are not advertised by reputable retailers.
  • Buy gift cards straight from the source.
  • Don’t buy gift cards at high traffic locations, at which it’s easier for Joe to conceal his tampering.
  • Change the card’s security code.
  • Create long and jumbled usernames and passwords to lessen the chance of a brute force hit.
  • The moment you suspect fraudulent activity, report it to the retailer.
  • Spend the card right away.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

How Your Username Can Be used to Track You

You probably have a few usernames, or you might have just one that you use for every site. Either way, your user names can be used not just to identify you online, but it can also be used to track you and find out information about you. How do people track you based on your user name? They do the following:

They Start with a Google Search

The first thing people do to track your username is do a Google search. You will be amazed by all of the information that is out there. However, Google is not the only game in town, so the best scammers will search on other search engines, too, including Bing,  USA.gov, various information broker sites and within social media.

They Then Move on to Social Networks

With so many people on social networks, it is a good possibility that a scammer can find you there, too, especially if they know the username that you use over and over again. It’s easy to find someone on sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, and in many cases, this is a gold mine of information for them.  Once they find your account, they can do any number of things like save your profile image, and then do a reverse image source. This often helps them find even more information.

Don’t Forget the Blogs

Savvy searchers will also do searches of a username on blogging sites like Tumblr, Blogger, and LiveJournal. Unless your blog is locked down, and most are not, they can read them.

Do a General Sweep of Username Searches

There are other sites, too, that allow people to search by username. For example, you can search for a username on Spotify. This could tell them what types of music you like. They also might look on a site like Reddit, and they can see any comments you have made. They aren’t done yet, though…you can even search for usernames on sites like Amazon.com and eBay. As you can imagine, once they go through all of these steps, they can know a ton about you.

You might think that this is an invasion of privacy, but all of this information is totally legal, totally available, and totally free.

And many of you are TOTALLY putting it ALL out there!

If you put your information out there, it is there for anyone to look at and use as they will. So, consider changing up your usernames, and while you are at it, take a look at your accounts and content to make sure nothing there’s going to get you in trouble, and beef up the security options.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Do Not take that Stupid Facebook Quiz

Where should you live in the world? What Game of Thrones family are you in? What is the food that best describes your personality? All of these answers are given and found by doing quizzes on Facebook. You have surely seen them if you use Facebook, and have may have taken these quizzes, but you definitely might want to consider stopping. If you have ever used one of these quizzes, you have probably given these third-party apps permission to access some of your personal data. Not only does this affect you, it might also affect the people on your friends list. How does it affect you? These answers can sometimes crack password reset questions,

Here are some tips that you can use to protect yourself:

Use Two-Factor Authentication – Almost all social media sites offer two-factor authentication. This allows you to further lockdown your accounts, as you won’t be able to sign in with only a password. Instead, you need a password and a code, which is often sent to you via text message. So, no one can log into your account even if they have your password, unless they also have access to your phone and texts.

Stop Taking Quizzes – The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to stop taking those quizzes. Though they look innocent enough, every click gives the company information on you. It’s true that not all companies collect your personal info, but you really have to do some digging in the terms of service to see if they do or not.

Check Your Privacy Settings – When is the last time you reviewed your privacy settings on Facebook? If you are like most of us, it’s probably been awhile. So, take some time to log in and do this. If you need a tip, choose to only share with yourself by clicking “Only Me” on all of the settings. That’s the safest, but after all, this is SOCIAL media, so you might want to pick and choose.

Look at What You Share – You should also look in your app security to find out what you are sharing with third-parties. You might be surprised at what you see.

Delete Old Accounts – Finally, make sure that you take a look at, and delete, any old social media accounts. If you don’t want to delete it, at a minimum, change your password. Also, Google yourself and see what accounts come up. If you can find it, you can bet that a hacker can.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

15 Year Old’s Naked Photos Spread Like Wild Fire

You have probably heard the story before. Teenage girl takes some scantily clad photos and sends them to her latest boyfriend. “What could go wrong?,” she thinks. Well, a lot could go wrong, and an article on Vice.com really lays that out. You might think that the boyfriend is to blame for this 15-year old’s photos spreading like wildfire, but the truth is this: he deleted them soon after getting them…the photos got out because the teen kept them on her phone and some classmates took that phone.

Ultimately, the photos got into the hands of the victim’s best friend. At this point, you probably think “Phew…the photos are safe.”  Wrong again. Her “best friend” ended up posting the photos to a blog. Many years later, the victim found out why…her “best friend” was mad that she had sent some angry texts to her the night before, and that her main motivation was to simply hurt her friend because of those texts. That’s all it took for a teen’s life to be effectively ruined for months.

When things like this happen, many women are made to feel guilty that they took these photos, and this is a type of digital violence. In fact, more women are now seeking counseling to help to combat these feelings. The thing is, if you have a nude photo, you are certainly not immune. Teens often become victims here, but so do adult women and celebrities. In most cases, someone else is spreading these photos, but the victim is often blamed.

In late 2017, the EU passed new laws that help to better protect people who find themselves in this situation, and in 2015, the British government made these actions a crime, too. However, in most other countries, no such laws exist.

In this case, the victim ended up forgiving her classmates, but as an adult, she still has not overcome the invasion of her privacy. She also still struggles with the fact that most people in the community blamed her…not the boys who stole her phone, nor her friend, who posted them on the internet. She says that people came up to her for years after the incident and told her they saw those photos, too, and she still has that feeling that she did something wrong.

Finally, as a society, we have to find ways to make sure that victims of these crimes are taken seriously, and ensure that video sites, like YouTube, and social media sites, like Facebook, respond immediately when notified of content like this.

And, please, I’m not blaming the victim here, and a bit of advice, no naked pics of yourself, girlfriend, husband or wife please. It’s a bit too risky and can have significant consequences.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Is Your Small Business Staff Trained in Security Awareness?

The Ponemon Institute released a shocking statistic: about 80% of all corporate data leaks is due to human error. In other words, it only takes a single staff member to cause a huge issue. Here’s a scenario: Let’s say that you have an employee, Betty. Betty is lovely. We love Betty. But when Betty is checking her personal email during her lunch break and sees she has an offer that promises a 10-pound weight loss in only a week, she clicks the link. She wants to learn more about it, so she clicks the link in the email. What she doesn’t realize is that by clicking that link, she just installed a virus onto the computer. In addition, the virus now has access to your company’s network.

This was a very simple act, one that most of us do every day. However, this is why it is so important that your staff is up to date on security awareness. How can you do this? Here are some tips:

  • Present your staff with information about being aware of security, and then come up with a set up where you send them a link they want to click on. This is a process known as “phishing simulation.” If your staff members click on the links, and they probably will, it will take them to a safe page. However, on the page is a message telling them that they fell for a scam, and though they are safe this time, there could be great repercussions.
  • The staff members who click the link should be tested again. This way, you will know if the message got through.
  • Make sure when you give these tests that it isn’t predictable. Send the emails at different times of day and make sure they look different and have a different message. For instance, don’t send the “lose 10 pounds” email twice.
  • Think about hiring someone, a stranger, who will try to get your staff to give them sensitive information about your company over the phone, through email, or even in person. This is a valuable test, as it helps you to determine who the “weak links” are in your company.
  • Give your staff quizzes throughout the year to see who is paying attention to security.
  • You should focus on education, not discipline, when you are doing this. Don’t make them feel bad or punish them. Instead, make sure they know what they did wrong and work on not doing it again.
  • Ensure that your team knows that a data breach can also result in financial, legal, and criminal problems.
  • Schedule checks of workstations to see if any employee is doing something that might compromise your company’s sensitive data. This includes leaving information on a screen and walking away.
  • Explain the importance of security to your staff, and encourage them to report any activity that seems suspicious.
  • After training and testing your staff, make a list of all concepts that you want them to understand. Look at this list often, and then evaluate it time and time again to see if anything needs changed.
  • Don’t forget company officers. When company officers are omitted from this kind of training it poorly reflects on the organization. Some security personnel are afraid to put their Executives on the spot. That is a huge mistake. Security starts from the top.

Remember, there is nothing wrong with sharing tips with your staff. Post them around the office and keep reminding them to stay vigilant. This helps the information to remain fresh in their minds, and helps you to recognize those who are taking security, seriously.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Black Hat 2017 was an Amazing Event

In July, more than 15,000 security pros, hackers, hobbyists, and researchers met in Las Vegas for the Black Hat Conference 2017 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. This was the 20th year that the security conference was held, and both black and white hat hackers joined together to discuss security.

For two decades, Black Hat has gained a reputation for demonstrations of some of the most cutting-edge research in information security as well as development and industry trends. The event has also had its share of controversy – sometimes enough to cause last-minute cancelations.

Launched in 1997 as a single conference in Las Vegas, Black Hat has gone international with annual events in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Black Hat 2017 was almost a full week of everything having to do with IT security. There were hands-on training sessions, a full business hall where vendors gathered with swag and products, and of course, parties. I hit 5 parties in 3 nights. I’m totally spent.

This is a conference that attracted some of the brightest people in the world of security, and has a reputation for bringing together all types of professionals and amateurs interested in hacking, security, or the latest in encryption.

What’s interesting about Black Hat 2017 is that there is something for everyone. From hackers trying to hack hackers to remaining “off the grid,” you never know what you might find. In fact, most people who attended this conference decided to stay away from electronic communication all together. Let’s just say leaving devices in airplane mode, shutting off Wi-Fi, using VPNs, and always utilizing two-factor authentication for critical accounts is the norm during the conference for veteran attendees.

One of the most popular parts of Black Hat 2017 was the briefing on business protection. It’s important to note that many companies have employees that simply don’t comply with security policies. Additionally, these policies aren’t governed enough, and it is costing millions. In her presentation Governance, Compliance and Security: Three Keys to Protecting Your Business, the speaker from HP, Sr Security Advisor, Dr. Kimberlee Brannock, during her 16-year tenure at HP, Dr. Kimberlee Brannock has used her extensive education and experience in compliance and governance to shape HP’s security standards. shared why it’s not always enough to secure business networks and why governance and compliance really matters. With 25 billion connect devices by 2020, maintaining proper network and data security compliance is an important concern for any business, as noncompliance costs businesses an average $9.5 million annually through fines, lost business and lawsuits.

Another very popular briefing at Black Hat 2017 was Staying One Step Ahead of Evolving Threats demonstrated on average, an organization has more than 600 security alerts each week, and over 27,000 endpoints leading to 71% of data breaches starting from the endpoint.

Most put in thousands of hours, and dollars, for that matter, on securing servers, laptops, and data centers, but many companies are ignoring other areas of security vulnerability. One of the best things about this briefing was that the leader, Michael Howard from HP, Chief Security Advisor, as Worldwide Security Practice Lead, Mr Howard is responsible for evolving the strategy for security solutions and services in Managed Services. He gave a lot of information on printer security, something that most businesses fail to address. He used real-world examples of how some of the most secure organizations are still lagging in their print security and share how he uses a proven framework to secure the print infrastructure.

Overall, Black Hat 2017 was an eye-opening experience, and with the world of network security changing all of the time, all in attendance surely learned something new. I met a ton of very cool characters, partied hard, drank too much, ate too much, slept none and to keep my data secure, I’m considering moving off grid to a cave in the Outback of Australia.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

ISPs invading Subscriber’s Privacy

It’s hard to keep track of the news of politics these days, and even if you can, how do you know it’s even real? The political landscape has greatly changed since January, and there have been a lot of laws passed that will affect us all, including the repeal of a law that protected your privacy on the internet. Basically, with this repeal, your internet service provider, or ISP, can sell your browsing history to anyone.

If you use the internet, you will be affected by this law. Not only will this change allow your ISP sell your browsing history to the highest bidder, it could also make it easier than ever before to access information about your family, your finances, and your health. Your ISP can now sell this information to companies, and they don’t need your permission to do so.

So, what does this mean for you? After all, you might not think it really matters that much. In simple terms, it means that your ISP can collect data about your browsing habits, create a record of this, and then sell it to advertisers. Think about your browsing history yesterday. If you want, open it up right now from your browser. One minute, you might have been buying dog food on Amazon, and then next, reading the latest news from the Kardashians. Regardless of if you want advertisers to know that you are a Kardashian fan, or not, to them, your data is a gold mine.

Now, think about your browsing history over the past few weeks or months, and then consider that your ISP knows each and everything you have searched for. It knows about that weird smell coming from your laundry room that you checked out online, and it knows that you have listened to that catchy new pop song a few times. It also knows your deepest worries, your sexual preferences, your political leanings, and what you are feeding your family. This information is invaluable to advertisers, but do you really want it getting out?

Luckily, you have options, one of which is called a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, which will encrypt data. Some of these, such as Hotspot Shield VPN, a client, is a good option. Also, start paying attention to those cookies and delete them.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Are you Scam Aware or a Sitting Duck?

You might have heard about all of the scams out there, and think that you are pretty scam savvy. But, the truth is, most of us aren’t, and even a simple phone call could get you caught up in a big scam.

One such scam occurs when criminals call random phone numbers and ask questions, such as “Can you hear me?” When you say “yes,” they record it. They then bill you for a service or product, and when you try to fight it, they say…but you said ‘Yes.’ Not only does this happen with private numbers, it also happens with businesses. So, you have to ask…are you aware of the possibility of scams, or are you a sitting duck just waiting to be targeted? HOWEVER, this scam is unproven. Meaning I don’t think it’s a scam at all. And the scam is that this is not a scam!

Do You and Your Staff Know What To Avoid?

Do you think your staff, or even yourself, knows what to avoid when it comes to scams?

  • It’s always a good idea to have some type of awareness program in place to teach your staff what they should avoid to avoid becoming a statistic. Phishing training and social engineering information should be a part of this.
  • Do you think you or your staff would know if they fell for a scam? To teach them, make sure to give them a general, broad view of various scams and avoid being too specific. Instead, broaden the perception they have of various attacks.
  • If someone on your team was the victim of an attack, would they even know what to do in that instance? It is important to have a “scam response plan” in place.

Reporting Scam Attacks

It is essential that your team understands how to report a scam. Whether that scam is a physical security scam, such as someone wearing a fake badge and gaining access to the facility or a cybersecurity incident.

It’s also important for you to realize that some people might not even want to report these incidents. They might not feel as if it’s a legitimate concern, or they might even feel stupid that they fell for it, so they hold the information back. Others might feel as if they are being paranoid, or feel as if it’s not a valid concern. Make sure your team realizes that we all make mistakes and you want to hear about it, no matter what.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Smart and Easy Ways to Protect Your Digital Life

Even if you don’t realize it, your identity is all over the internet. Whether you posted to an internet forum in 1996 or you ever had a MySpace page, this information is still out there, and you have to protect it. Here are some simple and easy ways that you can protect your digital life:

  1. Change Passwords – The first thing you should do is make sure you are regularly changing passwords. Make your passwords difficult to guess, and a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols. Also, make sure that you are protecting your account when resetting passwords. For instance, you should have to answer “knowledge based authentication questions” before making a change.
  2. Take a Look at Account Activity – Many companies allow users to check out their recent activity. Google, Facebook, and Twitter are three examples. If something seems out of place, report it, immediately.
  3. Close Accounts You Don’t Use – Do you have an old MySpace page? Did you start a Blogger and never use it? If so, go and delete those accounts before they get hacked.
  4. Don’t Share Too Much – What do you share online? Are you getting too personal? Hackers can use personal information, such as your birthday, or even favorite sports team, to get into your accounts. This is especially the case if you choose to use this information in your passwords or in your password reset or knowledge based authentication questions.
  5. Use a VPN – With all of the talk about internet security making headlines, the safest way to access public Wi-Fi is through a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your information.
  6. Don’t share account passwords – STOP THE MADNESS! Though you might think it’s cute to share a social media account with your spouse, it’s also dangerous. The more people who have access to your accounts, the higher the chances of getting hacked.
  7. Choose Trusted Contacts – Make sure to choose a couple of friends or family members as trusted contacts. That way, if you get kicked out of your social media accounts, they (meaning their email or mobile#) can help you get back in.
  8. Update All of Your Software – Finally, make sure that you are updating all of your software such as your OS, apps, or even Office docs when prompted. Don’t let those updates wait. Many of them contain important security updates, too.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.