Senior Safety in the Cyber World

There are an increasing number of news stories illustrating the vulnerability of our personal and professional information that is stored on computer systems around the world or “in the cloud.” Computer files are held for “ransom” or our favorite department store has had a breach and the bad guys have gained access to our social security number or other important data. In response, companies assure us that they are beefing up their cyber security.  Keith%20Kurtenbach.fw.png

                                               By Keith Kurtenbach, CJE Infrastructure Manage

Since October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, I’d like to provide some guidance on what you can do to protect your networks, devices and data from cyber threats.

Q. WHAT EXACTLY IS CYBER SECURITY?

Cyber Security is formally defined as “a body of technologies, processes and practices designed to protect networks, computers, programs and data from attack, damage or unauthorized access.” For most of us, this includes the protection of our computers, smartphones, email or social media accounts or other places that we store our personal information (iCloud or Google Drive).

Q. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST THREATS TO OLDER ADULTS WHEN THEY USE COMPUTERS FOR EMAIL, FINANCES OR SHOPPING?

One of the most prevalent threats is email phishing. Phishing scams involve receiving a very authentic-looking “phishing email” in your inbox that asks for something of value, such as money, credit card numbers, passwords, your PIN or date of birth. These emails often include a deadline and a consequence for not meeting the deadline. A looming deadline and the threat of severe consequences would rattle any person. Older adults who are newer users of electronic communication should never respond to these “phishing” emails, even if an attached logo looks familiar. Remember that most companies never ask for personal information by email.

Q. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON TO BE LEARNED FROM THIS?

Change your password! In 2013, 1 billion Yahoo accounts were compromised. Encrypted passwords, unencrypted password reset questions, telephone numbers, dates of birth and names were stolen. This was especially troubling because many people use the same password for all online accounts.

Q. WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF COMMON AND MORE INNOVATIVE CYBERATTACKS, AIMED PARTICULARLY AGAINST OLDER ADULTS?

The Nigerian Email Seniors receive an elaborate email from a Nigerian royal that promises a great amount of money in the future if an initial payment is sent to this person to start the process. Needless to say, the victim never receives any money after sending the first $5,000 to $10,000!

Medicare/Medicaid Scams These have been conducted via emails and phone calls. Posing as Medicare and Medicaid employees, the callers or correspondents will ask for sensitive information that Medicare or Medicaid would normally need, such as social security numbers and birthdates. The information is then used to open unauthorized credit cards.

Tech Support Scam Scammers put malware (software designed to damage computers) on computers. After the performance of the computer is impacted, pop-ups will appear offering tech support. In some cases, attackers take remote control of the computer and create other vulnerabilities on the hardware. In other cases, the attacker claims to provide a phony service that is paid for automatically by the victim’s credit card.
Grandma/Grandpa Scam A phone call is made to a senior, and when the call is answered, the attacker, sounding in distress, says something like “Grandma, do you know who this is?” The victim usually guesses by offering the name of a grandchild. The attacker, using that name, takes on that grandchild’s identity and begs for money because of some catastrophe that’s occurred.

There are an increasing number of news stories illustrating the vulnerability of our personal and professional information that is stored on computer systems around the world or “in the cloud.” Computer files are held for “ransom” or our favorite department store has had a breach and the bad guys have gained access to our social security number or other important data. In response, companies assure us that they are beefing up their cyber security.

The grandparent is usually quite shaken and wants to help and wires the money, which is lost forever.

Q. WHAT IF SOMEONE CALLS ON THE PHONE FOR INFORMATION INSTEAD OF USING EMAIL? IS THIS SAFER?

From my experience, I would still be cautious.

Q. WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO PROTECT THEMSELVES AGAINST CYBERATTACKS?

  • The major rule of thumb is “think before you click”! This applies to opening up an email from an unknown source or clicking on a link within an email. If an offer seems too good to be true, IT IS!
  • Update the operating system on all of your devices regularly. Optimally, set it for automatic updates. The updates are most often patching security vulnerabilities that have been identified.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for verification from a caller. For example, if you receive a call from an individual saying they are your bank and they need to verify your account number, get their name, hang up, and call the bank directly to verify that person’s identity.
  • Many identity protection services are on the market now. Even credit bureaus offer identity protection services. If these services interest you, shop around.
  • Strong passwords are one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect your data. Passwords with seven or more characters with an uppercase and a lowercase letter, a number and a special character are considered the best. Additionally, ensure your mobile phone is password protected with a four-digit password.
  • Password-protect and encrypt your wireless network. Select WPA2/PSK encryption, which is recommended.
  • Change passwords regularly. This is especially important for your email account, as many account credentials have recently been compromised.
  • Beware of attachments. Email attachments are known to carry malware. Only open if you know the sender and are expecting the file. This is another scenario where you should not be afraid to double check. If you get an unexpected file from someone, contact them to verify that they actually sent it. It is possible that their account is compromised and the attackers are now targeting your account with an attachment.

Q. CAN YOU NAME SOME APPS, SOFTWARE OR SERVICES THAT ONE CAN USE FOR CYBER SECURITY?

It’s important that you have something to protect you and your computer from a computer virus or ransom ware attack. Any purchased anti-virus program that provides regular updates to the most recent malware signatures, like Norton, AVG, and Kaspersky are good.

However, if there’s no embedded malware, antivirus programs are useless. Phishing email scams are a big threat and the only thing you can do is keep yourself aware of them.

If you have doubts about what someone is asking you to do via email or phone, visit the following site, which collects information about common scams: https://www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds