Stop cybercrime attacks
Senior netizens are getting online in a big way, but the threat of cybercrime looms larger than ever. Learn how to protect yourself from these threats on your PC and smartphone so you can surf the net safely.
BY: Sudhir Menon
These days, when my friends and family ask me (and they often do) how important it is to protect their PCs/notebooks or smartphones, I ask them if they leave their home doors or grilles wide open, gates unlocked, let people they don’t know into their homes to chat with their kids or grandkids, and walk off with their things?
The answer is usually an unequivocal – “No! Of course not!” So I ask them, “Then why would you leave the gates to your computers wide open? You’d be crazy not to protect your PCs, notebooks and smartphones.”
With a little bit of forethought and common sense, protection can be achieved quite easily. The problem perhaps is that many of us don’t see a need to protect our devices. After all, we don’t keep anything important on them. Or do we?
A Norton Report in 2012 said that over 70 percent of people in Singapore have fallen victim to cybercrimes, including viruses, credit card fraud and identity theft.
In the past, many of us only used our PCs for e-mail, a bit of work or to play games. A compromised PC was mainly an inconvenience, and the inconvenience was measured in terms of how long it took to fix the PC. And hardly any meaningful information was kept on the mobile phone. Today, however, many of us use our PCs and smartphones for many daily mundane tasks such as online banking, accessing CPF accounts, submitting IRAS returns, online stock trading, and e-mail communications with banks. Almost all of our work-related documents and e-mail are kept on our notebooks and smartphones, and our login information, our IC or passport numbers, our bank numbers, and our passwords are being keyed-in, sometimes on a daily basis. Can we really afford NOT to have protection in place?
Before we run out in droves and plonk some money at your local computer retailers to buy all sorts of protection, it is best to understand some of the threats out there and perhaps some of the solutions available:
1. Malware – Very simply put, this is a general term used for a number of different types of computer threats including viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, and other malicious and unwanted software or program. They generally disrupt or deny operations (e.g. corrupting your files), and gather information leading to privacy loss or exploitation (e.g. tracking your key strokes and storing your logins and passwords, or even stealing your identity). Most antivirus software will manage this. Even free ones can be just as effective. Microsoft Security Essentials is free and can be downloaded at www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/mse.aspx.
2. Phishing sites – This is a much more sophisticated attempt to get you to reveal personal information, such as login credentials for online banking, credit card details, or IC numbers. And they will usually use a very official looking fake website to give the impression of legitimacy. You will be requested to verify your login credentials or your credit card details, and once done, the scammer will proceed to clean out your account or transact on your credit card. Most new Internet browsers and antivirus software will to some extent flag suspect sites. Vigilance is the key and always remember that your bank will never ask you to verify information via e-mail.
3. Various Internet scams – And there are quite a few.
a) The “Nigeria scam” involves an e-mail request from “an important person” in Africa or some other location offering you a hefty profit for helping him transfer millions of dollars out of his country. But of course it involves you transferring some money to him just to show your sincerity. And that’s the last time you will see that money.
b) The “Win a prize scam” where you get an e-mail telling you that you’ve won the lottery or prize, and all you need to do is visit a website and provide your debit card number and PIN to cover “shipping and handling” costs or for verification. The goods will never come, and your bank account will never be the same.
c) The variation of the “Win a prize scam” comes via SMS. It either asks you to call a number, which may be a premium toll-number, or where a person will convince you that you have won a prize in a contest that you never participated in. It may also come with a link which will take you to a link for you to enter your bank card details.
If you have not taken part in a contest or lottery, it’s impossible for you to win a prize. The Nigeria scam has been around in various guises since the 1850s! Its longevity is a testament to its success. No amount of antivirus software will save you from your own gullibility, or in some cases, greed. So always be skeptical. If you are unsure about something, check with the authorities or ignore it. Your bank will call if it requires something.
4. Losing your notebook/smartphone – The loss of the phone or notebook itself is not a problem, but losing the information that you keep there could be. Let’s face it, we have work-related information, login/password credentials, contacts and SMSes, photos and videos (some of which are perhaps private), and many other pieces of information that could identify you. Always make sure your PCs/notebook are password-protected and backing-up your data (especially if there is valuable information there) is a good idea. You can also encrypt or password-protect some of your more important files. If you have an Android phone, applications are available to not only back-up your contacts, SMSes, videos and photos, but also to allow you to track the lost phone, and in some cases, wipe it completely. iPhone users can sync their contacts, videos, music and other assets to their PC or to iCloud.
Protect your children/grandchildren
Another important aspect of protection of course is in ensuring that your children or grandchildren are not exposed to inappropriate Internet content or information. Inappropriate does not mean just pornographic or adult material. It could be sites about drugs and alcohol, hate and intolerance, violence and weapons, gambling and cheating, amongst others.
Ninety-eight percent of kids between the ages of eight and 14 in Singapore have access to the Internet, and spend an average of seven to eight hours on e-mail, social communities and playing games using their PCs and/or smartphones.
Unless you are technically-inclined, your kids or your grandkids are likely to be one step ahead of you – mainly because they are learning daily from their friends and classmates or experimenting with things themselves. I am not trying to say that kids are deliberately destructive, but they are usually unaware of the dangers that are out there.
Solutions to monitor and/or block inappropriate content for children for home broadband and mobile phones (not just smartphones) have been mandated by the authorities in Singapore, and are available from telecom operators here. However, once this is done, does this mean that our children are 100-percent protected? No, of course not. As parents and grandparents, it is our responsibility to monitor from time to time what our kids are up to. Whether you are a StarHub customer or not, you can get more information about SafeSurf services from www.starhub.com/security.
Therefore in summary:
• Securing your PC and/or smartphone is not rocket science. It takes time and it takes effort but it is well-worth it. Installing antivirus software is a first step. This can be bought at any computer store or free versions can be downloaded from the Internet.
• Always update your PC software with the latest security patches – on Windows PCs and Macs, you will usually be notified when an update is available.
• Scan your devices on a regular basis (once a week is a good idea), and ensure that the antivirus definitions are up-to-date.
• Password protect your devices.
• If you have school-going children or grandchildren, make sure that the home network and their phones are secure using products that will enable safe surfing.
• You may lose your phone or notebook, but you don’t have to lose all of your contact info, SMSes, videos and photos. Back it up regularly.
• Be prudent. Be sensible – If the offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is a scam.
The thing to keep in mind is that there is no such thing as 100-percent protection. Malware will get more and more sophisticated, and the bad hats out there are always looking for new ways to part you from your hard-earned money. So it’s up to each and every one of us to keep our devices safe and secure. It is good practise to change passwords every three to six months, especially for transactional services such as bank accounts. But try not to keep the list of accounts and passwords in your wallet or on your device. If you lose it, or your device is compromised for some reason, you could be exposed to possible fraud.
Even if you don’t want to install an alarm, at least make sure the door is closed, and the grilles and gates are locked. It’s up to you to let only your friends and family into your home … and everyone else out.
|Some useful information and websites:|
Sudhir Menon is a senior manager at StarHub Advanced Multimedia Services.
(** PHOTO CAPTION: Asian woman with her grandchild, dreamstime)