Money is the only reason somebody steals information. Some 70 percent of the emails that lead to information theft are related to either financial institutions, businesses or something that mentions money in the subject line. Another 20 percent are related to espionage, and 5 percent are related to employee grudges. In most cases, curiosity kills your security.
Phishing expeditions are still one of the most effective ways for hackers to get into a computer system, and that’s because people have insatiable curiosity, especially when it comes to money. We’ve told you time and time again to be very careful about the links you click on from within an email. It is so easy for a hacker to mimic the logo of any bank or financial institution and to create an email address that can be close enough to looking real that you won’t notice it’s a fake in your haste to check out a great offer or respond to a dire warning.
So, as we’ve mentioned ad nausea, your curiosity could open the door to a Trojan horse virus that will enable someone to get into your computer. And once they do that, they can insert themselves into your financial conversations. To whom are you talking about money? Is it your financial advisor? Is it an attorney or a CPA? Is it your bank, credit card company or several merchants? They can identify every single one of them just by looking at your email. After all, you keep thousands of them in your Outlook application or on a website – which they can easily find once they get into your computer.
How will they put your email conversations to work for them? Well, let’s see. There’s your financial advisor, who’s been talking to you about your 401(k). Hmm. That’s good. Bet you have the password for that account stored on your computer. That makes it easy.
But wait, what if you “forgot” your password. The hacker can go to the website with your 401(k) and use your email address to reset the password. If that security is lax – say, for example, there’s no two-factor authentication – the hacker can have your email address routed to his, and now he’s in your account and can clean it out.
Of course, that could be just part of his haul. He knows who your financial advisor is, and maybe their system isn’t 100 percent locked down. You can imagine the fallout.
What if you’re involved in a large business transaction, such as buying a business or even a house? Your attorney may be dealing with a financial institution or two – even through another attorney. Again, a hacker can insert himself in a conversation with any party connected to the money, spoofing your email address or that of anyone involved. And once the hacker is into that next system, it opens more doors.
Just to add to your “watch list” when checking your email, also be wary of somebody sending you updated files that you are not expecting. We have a client who clicked on a PDF and wound up with an infected computer. Fortunately, it caused a major inconvenience more than anything else. Because all of the client’s files were backed up offsite, we had to wipe the computer clean and then find the infected files to delete from the backup. We were able to fully restore everything after that, but it took 18 hours.
So, let’s recap the steps you need to take:
- Look before you click. Do I get this kind of email message from this sender on a regular basis? Is this an offer that’s too good to be true? Is there anything that looks just the least bit out of the ordinary – even if it’s from a sender I know and trust? Remember, you can always access the sender’s website from your Internet browser instead of the email, or you can pick up the telephone and call a company or a person.
- If something looks odd even before you open the email, just delete it. I am amazed at how many people just let something suspicious just sit there.
- Don’t conduct financial business or visit passworded sites while on a public Wi-Fi network. Non-secured networks can be viewed by anyone from anywhere.
- Be very careful with flash drives. Someone can use one to invade your computer. If you are running a good anti-virus or anti-malware program, it should intercept any external device and give you the option to scan it.
- Keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date. And make sure they’re both running.
Finally, if you suspect your computer has been infected with a virus, call us immediately at 973-433-6676. We can assess your system and begin the process of restoring its health. If you have any questions about online security, call us or email us. We all have too much at stake.
Two More Tips to Protect Your Money
- When you travel by air, don’t just throw your boarding pass in the first trash bin you find in the terminal. The barcode on the pass has a wealth of information, including your frequent flyer account information – and any other personal information in that database – and your itinerary, which can let somebody know how far away from home you are and how long you will be away. If you can’t shred it, tear it into pieces that also separate the barcode and throw them into different trash bins.
- Check all of your financial accounts frequently, especially with business bank accounts. When you have a lot of money coming in and going out electronically, that means a lot bank treasury departments are accessing your account. If you monitor the accounts regularly, you have a much better chance of catching fraudulent activity.