Avoiding the Cyber Crime Holiday

Price Waterhouse Coopers just released a report finding that cyber crime against businesses has soared in 2011.  While Cyber Monday might be over, the online shopping discounts will continue to get better and better as Christmas approaches.  In essence, the holiday ad bombardment won’t stop until the New Year bells have tolled.

The press gives a great deal of attention to consumer protection over the holidays.  I even wrote an article for ABC News on this just this week.  And for good reason.  This year 40% of consumers will have their information misused.

But given the just as staggering figures for online crimes against businesses, what are these companies supposed to do? Are there good practices that businesses should adhere to this holiday season? The short answer is yes.

For any business, consumers are your most important asset.  If your customers don’t trust you, you won’t be in business long. Just as a manufacturers takes steps to ensure that the products they make are safe for consumers, businesses that engage in online sales must give cyber security the same level of importance.  Hackers will check how easy it is to break into a site, so put up the online security locks and force them to go elsewhere.  Note that the bigger you are, the more of a target you become.  Hackers love to make headlines, so be on the ready if you are popular site.

And follow these security tips to get started on the right path to putting your consumer first:

Cyber security basics: Make sure your system is secure by encrypting usernames, passwords, and valuable personal information that belongs to your consumer.  Also, break up personal information, for example, store username separate from full names and addresses.

“Red Team” your site – bring in a team of white hat hackers (a service SSP Blue provides, for example) to do a security assessment – they can find security holes and help you fix them before the bad guys exploit them.

“Red Team” your site again – anytime you change anything on the site – add a feature, for example – make sure it goes through the Red Team process again before going live.  A new feature can sometimes break something else.

Teach secure coding – the best engineers still need training on how to write ‘secure code’.  If you outsource your engineering, demand the outsourced company do the same.

Insert ‘Teachable Moments’ throughout your site – teach your users how to be cautious online and how to navigate safely – so they make it part of their daily routine and trust you more in the process.

Staying alert, engaged, and secure this holiday season isn’t just for consumers.  Businesses need to be on guard as much as consumers do.

A few cyber security steps can make the difference between a prosperous holiday season and a lousy lonely one.

Cyber Monday: 6 Tips to Avoid Getting Hacked or Scammed

Cyber Monday — which for many stores begins Sunday — is almost upon us. That means that more than any other time of year, we’ll be bombarded with sales and deals and notices and ads. One study found 84 percent of retailers saying they would email consumers about holiday-shopping deals.

Your email inbox will be stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with all sorts of offers. Many will be legitimate. An ever-rising number will be scams targeting your identity and money.

Facebook may need you to click in the link in an email so they can verify your login information. UPS may send you an email saying you need to view the attachment to get details about a long-lost package. Your bank may send you an alert that your recent transaction was declined and they need your information immediately to correct the error. And a Nigerian Prince may notify you urgently that you’re about to receive $5,000,000…if you can just send him $500 to get the money out of a closed account.

If you think the only scam is the Nigerian Prince, you’re terribly mistaken. And this mistake can be costly.

According to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2011 Identity Fraud Survey Report, 40 percent of all identity theft victims had their information stolen while making an online purchase.

Viruses and scams are becoming intertwined these days, and they are more cunning than ever. The latest trend in cyber infections is the active virus — a virus that cons you into taking some action.

Hackers and attackers are sending emails impersonating well-known and commonly used services like Facebook, UPS and your local bank in order to steal your information. They are very good at it. The emails look and sound legitimate even though they are designed to infect your computer or steal your personal and financial information.

How do hackers impersonate something like Facebook? Usually they fill an email with company graphics and links, which are easy enough to find via a Google image search. Often the hackers will go so far as to give you a warning reminding you to “be careful of scammers out there.” They even put privacy information on the bottom to make the email look official.

Among the “good,” legitimate-looking links in the email, there will be a note asking you to click a link to “verify” your login information. The link will take you to a site that’s dressed up to look like Facebook or a UPS page, for example, or it will open an attachment or drop a virus.

Once you’ve entered your identifying information — thinking you’re being smart and keeping up with privacy — the hackers steal your identity and money. Other emails might ask you to download a simple attachment that will actually launch a virus designed to give the hacker access to your computer and everything in it.

How can you avoid falling prey to these scams?

  • Check addresses carefully. Hackers send you messages from addresses that look legitimate and don’t raise alarms. But if the email address is “facebooksupport@aol.com,” you can be sure that it’s not from Facebook. So don’t click the link in it. If it’s an official email, it will come from an official, company address.
  • Check the address again! Sometimes hackers even use technical tricks to make the address the email came from end with a legitimate, well-known domain. An example might be “help-hr178367459@facebook.com.” Emails like these often contain infected attachments.
  • Research and use online security tools and services. Some of them are free — a good example is BillGuard, which scans your credit card bills for questionable charges. BillGuard says it has saved consumers more than $500 million in fraudulent charges consumers might otherwise not have noticed
  • Avoid attachments. Unless you personally know the sender of an attachment or email, do NOT download or open the attachment. If you are tempted, at least run the latest anti-virus, anti-phishing and anti-spyware software on your system.
  • Do your research. Most scams are talked about on the Internet somewhere. Google the type or wording of the scam and see what comes up. A site called www.snopes.com offers lots of information about new and old scams. Also, call the company from which the email is allegedly coming. If you’ve gotten an email from a bank and you call the bank but they have no record of your transactions, the email is a scam or a virus.
  • Go with your gut. If an email seems fishy (or “phishy”), it probably is. Use the common sense you use in the real world — it may seem obvious, but for whatever reason many people often suspend their common sense in the online world.

The holidays are all about giving — but not to scammers and hackers.

Don’t Remind Me Later

Imagine a bunch of scammers and hackers sitting around in a dark room together. They’ve just created brand new viruses that will invade your life by invading your computer to steal your banking information, take all your passwords, send threatening emails to all your friends, make all your personal photos public, and….. And, they’ve devised a simple and yet genius way to get it into your laptop or smartphone that’s always connected to the Internet using some of the hundreds of software pieces that run on your computer.

Amazingly, software providers have also just figured out a way to block these viruses. But the only way this will work is if you update your laptop or smartphone with the latest security updates they have just sent you. And out of sheer courtesy, they are asking you if you want to update now or “Remind Me Later.”

What are you going to do? What do you do nearly every time you see that nice “Remind Me Later” button looking so sweetly at you while you’re busy updating your Facebook or sending an IM or working on a work email? We all do it. We all tell our friends who are trying to protect us to come back another time. You’re OK leaving all the doors and windows wide open for the bad guys to break into your life. You’re OK with giving your life away to some stranger in a dark room on the other side of the world.

This scenario might sound dramatic, but, it’s really not. The “Remind Me Later” button is not your friend. In fact, it is probably the most dangerous ‘button’ you can push.

Let’s put this in perspective. If robbers had figured out how to turn off your home alarms or break into your house, would you fix it right away or put a note in your calendar to “Remind Me Later?” Similarly, we don’t ask someone to remind us to lock our car later if we know we have left it unlocked. The same is true for every security measure we take in our real lives.

And yet, we hit that “Remind Me Later” button as quickly as we can, like we’re playing whack a mole at an arcade.

Some people complain that security updates take too long, are too cumbersome, and bog down their computers. That was true…about 10 years ago. With today’s high speed systems, security updates can run quietly in the background. Kind of like the locksmith who can do his thing, while you’re busy doing yours in the house.

Hackers are literally creating and launching new viruses every day. That means that these invaluable updates are needed frequently. Every time a software provider figures out a way to block the bad guys, they send out an update. They have effectively put a new lock in an existing door, ensuring the safety of your personal life.

So, next time the dialogue box appears asking if you want to run a security update now, just remember the “Remind Me Later” button is not your friend.

Scammers Don't Need Your Charity

“OH MY GOD! That is SO sad!”, you say as you watch the tragic news on TV or read through the articles you find on Google News or MSNBC.com about the recent tsunami in Japan.

Then suddenly, as if someone was listening, you get an email titled – “Help Tsunami Victims Now!”

In the email, there are sad stories and photos that bring tear drops to your eyes. Just as a tear rolls down your cheek and just about the time you’re saying to yourself, “I wish I could do something,” there it is, in nice bold print, your call to action —

“Help a Child – Donate Now!”

“Just click on the link and give $5, $10, $100 – every bit helps and every bit goes to tsunami relief!”

And you do just that…

And, there goes your money to some scam artist out there – never to return…

Remember when you used to get phone calls (and you might still get them) after a tragedy asking for money? You used to think about whether you were getting scammed. “How did you get this number? Why are you calling if I’m on the “do not call” registry? I’ve never heard of you, who are you again? Why are you calling after 9 p.m. – you just woke up the kids!”

Unless, of course, you knew the organization well – it was the school PTA planning a fund raising drive, or it was the local Red Cross seeking your help once again. These lessons from the ‘real’ world apply to the ‘online’ world too.

In times of crisis, good organizations heed the call to action and so do the scammers.

Protect yourself — keep these great tips from the FBI’s website in mind:

* Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.

* Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as officials soliciting via e-mail for donations.

* Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.

* Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.

* To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

* Validate the legitimacy of the organization by directly accessing the recognized charity or aid organization’s website rather than following an alleged link to the site.

* Attempt to verify the legitimacy of the non-profit status of the organization by using various Internet-based resources, which also may assist in confirming the actual existence of the organization.

* Do not provide personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions: providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

For more useful information on charity scams, visit the FTC’s website.