Text from a friend on July 14, 2015…..
“Disastrous hacker situation. The virus got through over the weekend. Killed every single file and photo on my hard drive. All tax files, PowerPoint presentations, everything. Unfortunately, I was not backed up in the cloud.”
With the continued acceleration of technology, scenarios like this are occurring at an alarming rate. Keeping our computers and mobile devices secure against unwanted intrusions can be a daunting task. It requires vigilance and a bit of savvy to steer clear of attacks that threaten your digital landscape.
If you find yourself ignorant of the threats we face on a daily basis, then the book Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable And What We Can Do About It will get you up to speed in a hurry. Written by global security expert Marc Goodman, the accounts he shares on the proliferation of nefarious digital acts will frighten you into wanting to take proactive security measures to protect your wares. It offers a sobering look at the world of cybercrime and how it is affecting our lives.
By way of example, credit card fraud is one of the most widely feared risks that consumers face. Yet it’s been comical watching the FinTech community respond to these concerns. I talk about this at length in a blog post that I wrote a few months ago. Sadly, despite advancements in new chip technologies for credit cards, we are all still vulnerable to hacks. And contrary to popular belief, most of these intrusions occur through in-person point-of-sale transactions for one blindingly obvious reason; the damn credit card number is still on the front of a card. Why not embed it into the strip so that when you hand it to a restaurant server, they can’t pull out a pen and write your number down? Kind of defeats the purpose of that new security chip, huh? “
This is why I predict that secure digital options like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay will explode like wildfire in coming months. Why? Because with these options, your encrypted information does not leave a paper trail from the transaction. Make sense?
Computers Continue to be a Major Target
IT experts tell me that PC operating systems are particularly risky, although Apple products are not immune. Part of the issue stems from lax attitudes among computer owners when it comes to executing critical security updates. And even when one is dutiful with keeping these current, it seems like online intruders are always one step ahead of any proactive actions we take.
The bottom line is that most of us think that bad stuff will never happen. This prevents us from taking preventative precautions to avoid being victims of nefarious online acts.
Often, it’s our everyday online behaviors that get us in trouble. Chad MacDonald, Owner of Denver-based Genius Computer Repair, says his business receives calls daily from folks who discover that a site that they have wandered onto has severely damaged their machine. He notes that men are particularly naive in terms of the potential impact their browsing habits can have in creating an opening for bad actors. “Yep, I often have to talk with guys about their propensity for poking around on sites where they shouldn’t be, like porn sites. You have to be really careful with your surfing habits these days, even when it comes to free game sites for kids. It’s so easy these days to actually download things from what appears to be a safe site, without realizing that it’s malicious,” says MacDonald.
Free Public Wi-Fi and Hackers
Ever been online with your computer or mobile device at a local coffeehouse or even an airport? Well, using these public wi-fi zones can leave you exposed to an unexpected intruder. A savvy hacker can access your computer by guessing your password. Once in, they can see all of your information. Even worse, as in the case of my friend who sent me the text noted at the beginning of this article, they can begin to steal documents and destroy files, creating a destructive tornado-like path in their wake.
All of us have heard about the importance of using strong passwords that are different for each account. Yet laziness and excuses like “I have a bad memory” get the best of us. That’s why signing up for an online password manager like Dashlane or One Password is one of the best investments you can make. They offer not only a great way to store your passwords in one place but come with a function that allows you to create safe new ones for new sites you’ll be logging into.
One, Two or Ten Layers of Security
While living in the Midwest as a child, my mother always demanded that my brother and I wear layers of clothes on a bitterly cold day; as in long underwear, a warm shirt, sweater and a coat with a heavy scarf. Ideally, you should employ that same philosophy when protecting your computer and mobile apps. This is affectionately known as Two-Factor Authorization, a system that provides an additional layer of security or two for your devices. Google Authenticator and Authy are the best known in this space. They facilitate a process where a code is sent to your phone whenever you log into an authenticated site. This prevents hackers from accessing your tools with their own devices.
The aforementioned Chad MacDonald also suggests that you set up a dedicated email address for highly sensitive accounts like those used for financial transactions. It’s an email address that is not used for everyday correspondence – factors that offer an additional layer of protection.
As new consumer-based technologies continue to explode on the scene, diligence in employing proactive security measures is vital for fencing out those intent on taking our spoils. While it may appear that digital thieves currently have an upper hand, let’s not allow that to minimize the importance of taking responsibility for what we can control.
Michael Scott is a Denver-based journalist whose primary work focuses on disruptive trends in the new digital economy. More on Michael can be found at BitDisrupt