There are different levels of cyber crime. Some focusing on the big targets like government agencies, financial institutions, research facilities, companies, hospitals, power companies and more. But many focus on the little guy, small businesses, and even children.
We have “all” gotten smarter as we have grown to understand the technological advances we’ve seen in recent decades. Smartphones, encrypted chats, VPNs, social media sites and the list goes on. The problem is criminals have gotten smarter too. We often think of crimes involving technology as being the exclusive domain of cyber criminals or hackers. But the truth is anyone who is clever enough to troll Facebook or other social media sites can find out a lot about us and take advantage of a situation. Social media has become a hunting ground for the modern criminal.
Publicizing Your Location
Do you post your location when you’re not at home? Posting your location while on vacation and providing details on your trip while away is not a good idea. Sure we want to include our family and friends in the fun and excitement we’re enjoying with our families, but better to wait until you’ve returned home or limit your posts to a small group of family and close friends.
I recently heard about this scam involving a dating website. When the couple exchanged information over a period of time, criminals were listening. When the man and woman decided to meet, multiple armed men were at the scene and hijacked the vehicle. In some cases, one of the two on the date were in cahoots with the criminals. There have been crimes reported related to Tinder that include rape, attempted murder, blackmail, child grooming and more. If you use these sites it would be a good idea to stop all communication with anyone who attempts to pressure you into something you are not comfortable with.
Personal Data at Risk?
Another pastime for cyber criminals is the relentless searching for personal data that has been carelessly posted to social media. Addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, place of employment and more. These bits and pieces of personal data can be put to use by criminals to get a bead on you. Learn your routine, where you will be and when etc.
Hijacked Facebook Account
I have a friend who’s Facebook account was hijacked and duplicated. I became concerned when this friend was telling me that she was expecting a big check from the government and since I was in the same demographic, I should look into this opportunity as well. The person posing as my friend was trying to rope me in. So I simply asked some questions only my friend would know the answers to. Fortunately, that was enough to expose the fraud attempt to me.
Suspicious Friend Requests
Suspicious friend requests that target men or women. Have you ever received a friend request from a drop dead gorgeous person? They usually have a very skimpy profile or none at all. The images, as well as any one-on-one communications, are a ruse. The person doing the typing in the persona of the person in the image is likely a scammer from the Ivory Coast or some other remote offshore location. The scam is to befriend you and at some point ask for money. Facebook has been pretty good about shutting down these accounts. However I still see these from time-to-time so I suspect many of you have seen them as well, so beware.
Another disturbing cyber crime has a broad reach. This would be Malware. We used to have to consciously download a file and open it in order to get infected. Now malware can come in ways you would never expect. People tend to be trusting on social media sites. After all, it’s all about interacting in a social environment so it’s counter intuitive to be suspicious of everything and everybody. Malware can be in an ad you click on or installed with what seemed like legitimate software. Often the malware itself is not really harmful directly, but rather provides a gateway into your system. This way your compromised system can be offered to a bad seed who will pay for access.
Ransomware is the most egregious cyber crime. It’s real bad news and a profitable vehicle for cyber criminals. Should you install one of these nasty buggers it will encrypt your data and once you become a victim, the perpetrator demands payment before restoring your data.
The FBI says “Hospitals, school districts, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, small businesses, large businesses—these are just some of the entities impacted by ransomware, an insidious type of malware that encrypts, or locks, valuable digital files and demands a ransom to release them.”
What To Do
Social media companies, web hosts, and software developers do a lot to try and protect us but ultimately it falls on each of us to ensure as best we can that we do not become victims. Update your system whenever an update becomes available. System updates include more than bug fixes. Almost all system updates include security updates, be it Android, iOS, Windows or MacOS. The sooner you update the safer your systems will be.
Virus and Malware protection is a good first step but you need to realize that the companies that provide this software protection are constantly playing catch up with the criminals. Using care with what you share online is another prudent step. Of course deleting emails from those you don’t know with mysterious attachments is also on the to-do list. Even emails from those you know can be a risk since their email address could have been hijacked.
The world has gotten more complicated and in some ways more dangerous. It is imperative that you educate yourself on cyber crime and protect yourself, your network and hardware and stay safe as best you can.