Summer is time to relax in the real world, but caregivers, home care aides and loved ones need to stay alert when exploring online. Whether you’re an online ninja, or a digital newbie, there are scams to watch out for! Here’s a late summer update on the latest cons and ploys online crooks are using to put a bummer on your summer!
Malware: Around the world, 3.7 billion people use email, and one group estimates that in 2017, the world will send 269 billion emails each day! More than half of all those emails are spam, and in 2016, one out of every 131 emails linked to or contained malware. The presence of malware grows every year, and it continues to grow because it works. It’s the con man of online danger, because the email tells a story that convinces you to enable the attack, by clicking, launching or responding. Seventy-eight percent of people claim they know how risky clicking on links in emails is, and yet they click anyway! Not sure what malware is? You’re exposed to malware through:
- Spear-phishing: these attacks target specific groups of people or individuals by sending emails that ‘spoof’ what a legitimate business might send you. Emails that look official might ask you to log-in to your Google account, your bank account, your credit card account, or any other online account that contains your personal information. But the link doesn’t take you where you think you’re going – it takes you to a fake site that’s realistic enough to convince you to enter your identifying information.
- Business email compromise (BEC) scams: these emails target businesses, using the same spoofing techniques. Since critical business security information can be held by many different people, scammers just have to reach the one person who logs in somewhere they shouldn’t. More than 400 companies a day receive emails like this, and scammers have stolen more than $3 billion in this way just in the last three years!
‘Smart Home’ Devices: once you adjust your email style so that you’re not clicking on embedded links or opening unexpected files, you need to take a look around the house. Smart home devices are popular, fun and useful, especially the kind that respond to voice commands, which is practical for seniors. But, all these devices are hackable, because they connect to the internet. If you have a smart refrigerator, a smart thermometer, a smart TV, and especially a smart home ‘hub’, your security is at risk. Here’s why:
- What’s the password: Most of these devices are issued passwords at the factory, and the passwords are laughably weak: 1234, admin, test, and password are just some examples. Some are never changed because who thinks about the password to your smart coffeemaker? Some can’t be changed even if you want to, so all the devices you can control with a smart-phone app can be controlled by a hacker. This may not seem dangerous to you, but when you consider that these are just some of the devices that are now ‘smart’, not changing the password can seem pretty not-smart: door locks, security cameras, sprinkler systems, thermostats, televisions, and voice-controlled hub devices. Your number one protection is to change the default passwords on all your devices. Remember, hacking into one device on your home network allows access to all the other devices on your home network – where your finances, your personal photos and your passwords live.
- Ransomware: it’s been in the news, usually in connection to businesses like hospitals, airlines and a slew of small-to-medium businesses. You might not think it could happen to you and your PC, but scammers will take your money just as gladly. How much would you spend to get precious, irreplaceable photos or 10 years of tax returns back safely? Clicking on the wrong thing in a scammer’s email launches a program that encrypts all the data on your hard drive. It’s unusable, and only paying a ransom to the scammer gets you the key. Ransomware attacks are growing exponentially each year, because they work! Continued success means ransom amounts continue to grow, too, averaging $1077 per hostage in 2016.
The online world has dark corners and shady characters just like the real world, and just like the real world, some simple precautions can keep you out of danger. Don’t use sketchy links, always change the default passwords on your devices, and don’t download anything whose provenance you can’t verify. Stay safe, and don’t get hacked!