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Electronic bank robbers

Thousands of Australians have become victims of identity theft. This 21st century nightmare strikes without warning and can have devastating consequences. Imagine the shock of receiving a call from a collections agency demanding immediate payment of a debt you know nothing about.

ID thieves are not visible robbers who break into your home - they are invisible hackers who maliciously attack your data. You need to make it difficult for cyberspace criminals to impersonate you as ID theft is just one mouse click away.

You should shred sensitive information rather than disposing of it in the garbage bin. You should be conscious of “shoulder surfers” when using ATMs to protect yourself from peering eyes. And you should change your password often and use passwords that combine numbers, letters and symbols.

Scam artists have acquired the ability to infiltrate IT systems with new penetration techniques, enabling them to gain undetected access to data. As mobile device functionality converges with computers, cyber criminals will increasingly target iPhones and iPads with malware (aka malicious software). 

Malware includes viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware or any other form of unwanted software that can impact your computer’s performance and stability. Malware can manifest as a simple annoyance to a serious security threat by slowing your computer to a crawl or causing it to crash totally. 

It should be self-evident that in our online world your personal details are your most valuable currency. The Internet is now an integral part of the lives of most Australians, so protecting your personal information from the cyber underworld is vital.  

Anti-virus software is your first line of defence against malware. You must ensure your anti-virus software is kept up-to-date. Many people let their anti-virus software expire, thereby allowing their computer to become infected with malware. Remember, anti-virus software is only as good as the last update.  

The next line of defence is to delete emails from unknown sources. Millions of email users around the world regularly receive spam - unsolicited electronic junk email. While spam from legitimate e-marketers is usually harmless, deceitful scammers prey on unsuspecting recipients. 

A popular technique used by these online robbers is called phishing. Phishing enables a scammer to obtain confidential information from an Internet user by posing as a trusted authority. Users treat the spam email as legitimate and are then tricked into revealing personal information such as credit card numbers, account data, usernames and passwords.  

With the help of an authentic looking but deceptive email, the attacker typically redirects the victim to a hoax or mirror website. The bogus website looks like those of a legitimate retailer or bank. The spam message typically requests the user to “update” or “validate” their account information. When clicked, the email link takes you to a copy-cat website where your personal details are illegally captured. 

So another line of defence is to “click with caution”. Never click on a link in a spam message or an email from someone you do not know and be wary of opening random attachments. Given the pervasive nature of spam, it’s best to install spam blocking programs.

A final safeguard when using the Internet is to ascertain whether the web page you are using utilises encryption. A quick look at the address bar will reveal this. All web addresses start with the protocol “http://” which stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. In simple terms, “http” can be thought of as a language for transmitting and receiving information across the Internet.

Some web addresses start with “https://”. The “s” at the end stands for secure. Secure means that any information you enter is encrypted ie, it cannot be read in free text. Your browser will also indicate whether you are transmitting over a secured https page by the indication of a lock icon. Never enter your credit card details in a http website (ie, without the “s”). 

While cyber crime represents a clear and present danger, surfing the Internet should not be a terrifying experience. You can’t roll back the digital revolution but you can take routine IT hygiene steps to protect yourself online. So enjoy the benefits of our digital world while exercising common sense precautions. 

Paul J. Thomas

Posted Monday, October 20, 2014    View Comments 0 Comments    Make a Comment Make a comment  

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