Last week, I attended the Association of Minnesota Counties three-day conference. There were great workshops and presentations, but the one that really grabbed my attention was “Cyber Security” by FBI agent Michael Bazzell. He kept the large group of us spell-bound for 90 minutes. He was somehow easy-going and intense at the same time. His sense of humor and delivery style was reminiscent of a comedian at open mic night, and kept us engaged.
Bazzell’s job is exposing hackers and uncovering computer crimes, a constantly changing environment. It would be impossible to include all of the information on a short blog, but I wanted to pass on some of the things I learned.
Be sure to protect your passwords, and change them at least once a year. Use different ones for personal email, work email, financial records, and if you do online shopping. A lot of us are already doing this. I checked how many I have: 47. A few of the sites I am on frequently, others very infrequently.
Use a combination of letters, numbers, and characters. There is a program hackers use to crack people’s passwords that has every word in the English language. If you use a word like “flower” for example, it would take them approximately .07 seconds to find that out. Don’t post your passwords by your computer. Someone posted a picture of a well-known man sitting at his computer with his password clearly showing. He became a computer crime victim very quickly.
Business centers in hotels are insecure places to do any online work. Files are not encrypted and easily copied. If you use the hotel’s computer, be sure to not only close down the internet, but also log off. All a hacker has to do is look at the list of logins and bingo, they have your information. And they focus on higher scale hotels.
Any public place with wireless access is also subject to scams. There is a device called a “pineapple router,” available for sale that hackers use to intercept everything you do on your laptop. They gather your passwords, cookies, and websites.
If you have a web cam on your computer’s hard drive, disconnect it when you aren’t using it. It’s very easy to hack into someone’s home computer and see what the eye of the camera is looking at. When I bought my laptop, I covered the camera eye with a sticky star I can remove if I ever would Skype.
If you have a thermostat that you can access remotely, put a not-easy-to-figure-out password on it. There is new technology that allows hackers to search devices’ security cameras from owners cell phones or other mobile devices. The agent did just that and showed us a number of thermostat units in peoples’ homes. And it showed things like “porch light on,” what the temp was (so if it was 58 degrees, that indicates people are not home), and on and on.
Another device that is being used at ATM machines and gas pumps is a “skimmer.” They are homemade, a fifth the size of a postage stamp, with a pinhole camera that records you typing in your pin number. There are hundreds out there and difficult to trace to the thieves.
Those are a few things to be aware and beware of. Not long ago spam emails were easy to pick out. Now the bad guys are getting more sophisticated and their emails often look like they are from credible sources. Generally speaking, do not clink on any links, unless they are from your best friend who wants you to see his latest contribution on YouTube. Let’s do what we can to help in the fight against computer crimes.
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series, Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, The Noding Field Mystery, and A Death in Lionel’s Woods, www.christinehusom.webs.com