Internet Safety: How vulnerable are you to malware or spyware?

Internet safety should be a top concern for you if it isn’t already. Today’s children are born with digital devices in their hands. Well, not really, but they know how to grab phones and open up apps as soon as they are old enough to reach. An overwhelming number of people shop and bank online. It used to be a rarity if you found someone who ran most of his/her life online. Now it seems like it’s a rarity if someone doesn’t live online. Even our cars and refrigerators and thermostats and security systems are connected to the almighty internet.

I’ve never been an early adopter when it comes to technology. I’m an optimistic person who is pessimistic about and distrusting of the internet safety and security of apps and software until others have beta tested them…for at least a year. I figure that if there were any glaring holes in security, somebody would find it within a year and either get the problem fixed or shut down the company. I’m not attached to my gadgets. My husband has a flip phone. Our friends make fun of us and ask if we’re Amish. (If you’re Amish, please take that as a compliment.)

Having said that, I embrace technology when I feel that it’s safe enough. Although, within recent years, I think we’ve all discovered that there’s nothing really safe anymore. Hackers and thieves will find you and steal from you when they really want something. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when. Because of this, the key to internet safety and protecting yourself has moved away from “How can I be impenetrable?” to “How can I be more impenetrable than the next guy so that thieves will hit the easier target?” That’s a sad statement about the society in which we live, but it’s the truth.

I had the opportunity to attend an internet safety cyber awareness session taught by two FBI agents. I thought I was pretty darn protective, but I left a little freaked out. If I was surprised by these security measures, I figured that others might be, too, so here’s what I learned:

The “most people know” information:

Don’t use public wifi’s when using online accounts that require a password for entrance. Public wifi’s are not secure.

Don’t download attachments from or click on links within those jokes and “important information” emails that get passed around by your friends. You’re pretty likely to be downloading malware onto your computer.

Information that blew me away:

Hackers don’t have to be smart or talented to get your information.

Hackers are no longer just geniuses sitting in their mothers’ basements, creating these intricate codes to steal your information. There are “exploit kits” sold online so that the average Joe can place spyware on your computer and collect every single keystroke you enter (including usernames and passwords) as well as download or steal every single file on your computer. How can they do this? Through those joke emails that I mentioned earlier, or they pilfer company or association email lists and send a beautifully fake email supposedly from someone in your organization, asking you to click on a link to verify information or get more information or sign up for something. BAM! Spyware on your computer.

The agent showed an email with a link that seemed to be legitimate: www.utsa.edu. But when a volunteer hovered over the link, the computer (supplied by the agent) showed that she would not be sent to that link. Instead she was going to be sent to something like u-tsa.edu – a website that would then plant spyware on the computer. Which it did. And we watched on a second screen as the volunteer’s computer came up. All of the information was accessible by the thief. The agent could send emails from her accounts, post from her social media platforms, and read all of her files.

If your email address is listed on any document or page on any website (even password protected websites) or it’s floating around in cyberspace because your friends do massive sendouts with everyone’s email address in the To line instead of the BCC line, criminals can get your email. Moral of the story: Don’t download anything or click on a link anywhere unless you are 100% sure that you’ll be taken to a legitimate website. If in doubt, contact the sender – but not by replying to the email; create a new one. Oh, and when they gain access to your computer, that also includes access to all peripheral devices that are on your network, including your built-in computer camera. Smile! Or cover up that camera when you’re not using it. (I keep a sticky-note over mine.)

USB’s can carry malware and spyware.

You know those freebie USB’s that you get at trade shows and conferences? Do you know the company that’s giving them out and what’s on them? Great googely moogely! I’d never even thought about that before. Sometimes, thieves don’t even wait for a show. They just drop a few “brand new” ones in a parking lot or a waiting room or some random place because somebody who doesn’t want to fork out money and buy their own will jump at the chance at free storage. Boom. A chump. A new victim.

And what about computers that “strangers” have access to? An administrative assistant’s desk in a lobby. A credit card machine on the counter at a shop. A computer on a desk that sits near a hallway that “customers” have access to in an office building. The agents talked about how easy it to walk by, slip the thumb drive into a port when no one’s looking, and steal from or take over that computer. If you work in a place that other humans have access to, keep an eye on your USB ports.

Leaving the wifi mechanism turned on on your devices is a thief’s paradise.

If your wifi capability is switched to on, your phone will automatically search and connect to wifi. But your phone doesn’t know which wifi’s are legit and which were set up by criminals. One of the agents brought out two pieces of equipment – something you can pick up online for $40. They were fake routers. He set up one wifi to appear as attwifi, a common wifi name at many places, and attwifi2. There were so many people connected to these fake routers. How did we know? Because he brought up the hacker data on the screen. We saw our phones and passwords up there! He didn’t leave this screen up for very long – just long enough for all of us to drop our jaws and turn off the wifi capability on our phones. Holy smokes! That’s insane! All of your passwords and credit card info to a thief in a matter of seconds when you walk by them with your wifi turned on. How can you prevent this? Leave your wifi in the off position until you intentionally log into a specific, trusted wifi source.

Do you see why I was shaken by the end of the class? Jiminy Christmas, this stuff is scary!

So, is there any way you can attempt to boost your internet safety and protect yourself?

We’ll cover that in next week’s post.

About Helene Segura, M.A. Ed., CPO®

As The Inefficiency Assassin™, Time Management Fixer Helene Segura empowers professionals on the go with the tools to slay lost time. Personal inefficiency at work leads to increased stress levels, lower morale, higher absenteeism, more turnover – and rising spending on employee health care and hiring. Why not improve productivity, decrease stress levels, and increase profits instead? The author of four books – two of which were Amazon best-sellers – Helene Segura has been the featured organization expert in more than 200 media interviews. She has coached hundreds of clients to productivity success and performance improvement by applying neuroscience and behavioral modification techniques to wipe out destructive, time-wasting habits. Helene turns time management on its head by sharing both client case studies and pop culture examples to teach her mind-bending framework for decreasing interruptions, distractions and procrastination so that companies can spend more time generating revenue.

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