I have been involved in providing automated solutions for companies for years. I have prepared detailed presentations and have spoken at events, repetitively warning clients and our staff how to avoid being hacked. Yet, a couple of weeks ago I came close to being a victim myself!
What happened? I was at a Chicago parking meter trying to use my charge card to get a parking ticket for my car. The card failed the first time but after a few tries it finally went through. I chalked the incident up to the zero-degree weather and a frozen parking meter. Seconds later I received a textating, "Your card has been restricted. Please call us at 312-985-5635." I had received a similar email from VISA in the past when my card had been hacked.
"312" is a Chicago area code, and I figured that VISA was concerned about the multiple tries at the meter so I was about to call the number but got suspicious. Instead, I called the VISA number on the back of my card. VISA said my card was not on hold and that everything was fine. Always call the number on the back of the card! Case in point – never let your guard down. A simple coincidence like above can make it seem real and logical. I did a web search on the phone number and sure enough it is a known scam phone number.
What are some of the common ways that you can protect yourself?
- Avoid Phishing Emails. 156 Million are sent globally daily. 10% fall for a scam and share their personal information. Any email suggesting great urgency or entertainment value, especially with a link should be avoided. One clever trick that is used is emulating a popular email address with just one letter changed. When in a hurry (and who is not) it is very easy to click on these. Would you click on an email from DisneyyWorld.com, complete with a picture of Mickey to check out a temptation vacation offer?
- Avoid Smishing Text Messages. Same as phishing but to text.
- Use multiple security programs and update frequently. Do not rely on just one program. Not performing the updates is the same as not having it because new viruses come out every single day.
- Stay out of "creepy sites" when surfing. If you have a terrible feeling that something is wrong but have already clicked to the site there is a simple way to check if it is safe. In Internet Explorer® click on the picture of the lock on the top right of your browser. That will check the site validation certificate to let you know if it matches. If the site is OK it will say, "This Certificate is OK." This means whoever says they own it does. If you are on Chrome® you have to click on the 3 dots and go to More Tools then down a few layers in order to find this in Security. Some browsers do not support this function. Be very careful what you click on when power surfing.
- Build a better password. Use 2-factor authentication. Never store passwords on your computer. Routinely refresh and vary passwords. Use 20 characters or longer. If you can not live with doing all of these things, at least pick a couple items which will be better than doing nothing.
- We all know about the phantom messages from friends. Some are responding to emails that you did not send. Most contain a temptation link that you never want to click on. Oddly, while writing this I just received one of these. Very common. Easy to click on in a hurry. Look carefully before you click.
- Locked computer. While surfing you receive a scary message of how law enforcement has detected a virus on your computer. You have been locked out by Ransomware. Do not pay. It will not make a difference.
- Ignore "pop-up" ads that tell you that a computer virus was detected. Often these tell you to click and the virus will be removed.
Hacking / viruses are a very serious problem. Generally, all circumstances can be avoided by incorporating a simple thought process before you proceed and taking proper precautions. Everyone is hurriedly making it through their day so quick clicks are very common and hackers know this. It is always best to fully read the content and assessment all emails and text messages before responding in any way. If you do not have time to thoroughly assess, leave the message until you have time to read it thoroughly. Keep your anti-virus up-to-date and surf safely!