When the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ran computer security tests in 2010 and 2011, the results were disappointing. In one incident, DHS agents surreptitiously dropped USB thumb drives, CDs and DVDs – compatible with every PC desktop computer rental and Mac in the world – in parking lots of both government departments and contractors. Some 60 percent of the people that picked up these unmarked items inserted them into computers. Of the items with a government or industry logo, over 90 percent were inserted.
The results were not unexpected, as computer security professionals have known for some time that humans are the weakest link in the security chain. This is why hackers study psychology and sociology in addition to every possible kind of computer from a mainframe to an iMac. They exploit humanvulnerabilities in addition to technological ones.
Computer security…it’s not like the movies
When people think of computer security, they imagine geeks with a MacBook Pro battling nerds with Windows 7 PCs. In real life, however, “all forms of online theft” cost the world’s economies about $1 trillion according to the Silicon Valley computer security firm, McAfee, Inc. The best defenses, corporate firewalls costing millions to build and manage, have done a decent job of blocking malware aimed at infecting computers, disrupting networks and stealing credit card numbers, account data and passwords.
But humans are the weak link, remember? The low-tech, virus-free “phishing” technique – sending e-mails that appear to come from a legitimate company – still gets plenty of confidential and extremely valuable information. The latest version is dubbed “whale phishing” as it targets senior executives whose computers contain, and link to, tons of valuable info. Data on iPad rentals or personal tablets can also be swiped, as they are backed up regularly via iCloud or USB.
After leveling off in previous years, phishing incidents were up almost 7 percent between June 2010 and May 2011, according to Symantec Corp. In addition to updating firewalls and strengthening security practices against other threats, here are some simple things you can do to combat phishing:
Check the sender of any e-mail that has attachments or embedded links. Don’t know them? Don’t open it.
Don’t enter personal or corporate information on a web or e-mail form.
If you get an info request that is supposedly from your bank or vendors, call them up.
Do not click on any links in any e-mail whose sender is unknown. One click to the wrong place can ruin your day (and your hard drive).
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