Smarten Up! The Spoof is On

I was at a client’s office when the email – to her as president of a service organization – arrived, asking for a wire transfer of money. Other members of the organization got the same message, and some actually sent money. A scammer had spoofed a name or email address that was recognizable. This is becoming a growing problem. Is technology making us stupid?

The answer is “no,” but it is making us careless because it gives us the ability to do too many things too easily with too little forethought. That, in turn, leads to doing stupid things – and that’s what spoofers and other Internet-based thieves are counting on now and will continue to do so.

Email seems to open the doors to your computer and your data more conveniently than anything else. The biggest breach opportunities come when you click on something or follow through on instructions because you didn’t take the time to look carefully at an email and when you send sensitive information in an unencrypted email.

Spoofing is the most effective way to get you to open an email and link yourself to trouble. It’s remarkably easy to recreate a company’s logo and attach a fake email address to it. When many people see what they think is a legitimate logo, they just click to open. If nothing jumps out as a red flag, they’ll continue to a bogus website, and BINGO, it’s too late.

People are particularly susceptible to spoofs at this time of the year. Online merchandise sales continue to grow at holiday time, and merchants or shipping companies often send tracking info so you’ll know when your packages should arrive. If you take a little time to look at the message, you’ll probably see that the domain attached to the shipper or merchant bears no resemblance at all to the company. You might also note that the message itself is generic – and it likely has misspelled words or syntax that just doesn’t fit how we converse in the United States.

If you want to verify the tracking on a package, you can go onto the merchant’s or shipper’s website and enter a tracking number you received when your order was confirmed. If you don’t have that number, there is often a way to get the information.

Similarly, as we move from the holiday season to the tax season, be especially careful of financial-related information. There’s a reason why your financial advisor doesn’t let you leave trade information on voicemail or email. They don’t want your financial data left out in the open, and you should feel the same way. When financial advisors and institutions – and even healthcare providers – have messages for you, they generally tell you to access them on their secure websites – and require you to sign in.

DO NOT click a link on an email you think was sent to you by anyone who wants financial, health or other sensitive personal data. If you know the website, open a new browser window and go to the website by typing in the website address. Even if the domain name in an email looks correct, something like “[email protected]” can really link to “you’”

And, of course, never, never send user names, passwords, credit card info, bank accounts, Social Security numbers (even the last four digits) or other personal information in an email. Unless you and the other party have activated a mutually agreed-upon encryption process, the data is wide open. Email messages can go through multiple communications systems, and it’s impossible to know when a data thief is waiting to pick off any number of random messages at any point. They can pick off thousands in the blink of an eye and then take their own sweet time pulling out key info and wreaking havoc.

It all goes back to convenience vs. security, with a dose of distraction thrown in for good measure. We’ve had clients accidentally open a door to their computers, and the invaders took their info and denied the owners access to their systems. Fixing it on the computer end generally requires a visit from us, and then there’s the nerve-wracking hassle of working with other companies to close your breaches. When you have to go through all of that, it’s more than just an inconvenience.

We’re not telling you anything you don’t know. We are telling you to take a deep breath and a closer look at your email and the links inside them. We’re also telling you not to send sensitive information in emails. If you think you may have had a breach in your security, we can help you patch up your computer system. We can also help you set up an email encryption system. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with your questions or to have us help resolve an issue.

Cybersecurity Checklist

We doubt the Russians or WikiLeaks are looking into your computer, but there’s a good chance somebody is. Want to get ahead of any possible problems? Try this checklist.

  • Update your software – Security patches are almost always the feature of any software update for your operating system and application software, including Internet browsers. You can set your computers, servers and mobile devices to notify you when an update is available or have it installed automatically. Do it. It’s as simple as that.
  • Limit admin accounts – There are two things to shore up here. First, limit the number of people in your organization – or household – who have administrative rights to your system. The more people who have access to the inner workings of your system, the more possibilities there are for somebody to leave an electronic door open to an invader. As another precaution, always run your PC as a non-administrator unless strictly necessary.
  • Enable your firewall – This should be a no-brainer. It’s the first line of defense against hackers infiltrating your entire IT system or any computer in your system that goes out onto the Internet. Make sure you have it set to manage inbound and outbound traffic.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware – This goes hand-in-hand with enabling your firewall. These programs are designed to stop viruses, worms and other forms of malware. They can also stop pop-ups and other threats. Make sure every computer and device (where appropriate) is regularly scanned by the anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and don’t let licenses lapse.
  • Beware of wireless – Enable encryption, turn off SSID broadcasting and use the MAC filtering feature. Be wary whenever out of the office using Wi-Fi.
  • Protect mobile devices – Always use passwords, screen locks and auto locks on mobile devices, and encrypt data transmissions when possible.
  • Use strong passwords – The latest research shows that longer passwords are stronger, and you should always have a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Change your password often and don’t use anything that can be related to your email address.
  • Backup your files – We can’t emphasize this enough – and we strongly encourage you to back up files offsite, on a cloud-based server. Have an automated backup and recovery plan in place for key data residing on your network vital for every computer user and organization. We’ve talked about ransomware before, and have securely backed-up files is your best protection.
  • Trust your gut – This is worth repeating, too: If a website, email or window on your PC offers you something that’s too good be true, ignore it or delete it. If something looks odd or out place, ignore it or delete it. Most companies, especially banks and credit card companies, don’t ask for personal information in an email. Don’t click a link. Instead, log back on to your browser and go to the website address you’ve used before to see what that company has to say.
  • Train your staff or family – Most cybersecurity breaches happen because of human error. Train your staff or your family members on how to be more secure while using computers and mobile devices on the Internet. Remember how you’ve told your kids not to talk to strangers or get into a stranger’s car? It’s the same in the cyber world.

We can help you with any of cybersecurity concerns and needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to get answers to your questions or to set up a training session.