In our summer issue, regular contributor David M. Brown assesses the benefits of having cybersecurity systems in place to protect yourself, your business, and your family.
The devices Alexander Graham Bell intended to connect us almost a century and a half ago are frequently the instruments of 21st-century disconnection: from our identity, serenity, security, and funds. Is this call friend or phishing? Another robocall? Scam? Computers, too, which have connected the world, have made us cozily familiar to thieves whose livelihood is predicated on hacking and hurt.
“As the world becomes more digital and everything in our lives becomes connected to the Internet—our cars, our houses and medical devices—it is expected that criminals would like to take advantage of any vulnerabilities they might notice,” says Anton Petrov, who leads the blog team at Lewes, Delaware-based Atlas VPN, a division of Peakstar Technologies.
And, this isn’t coming for the most part from Russia or Nigeria. Atlas VPN says that 85% of cyberattacks in the United States are homegrown. On May 9, a total of 204,410,383 attacks were recorded, and 174,528,081 originated right here.
A major threat is phishing, in which you are contacted by email, telephone, or text message by someone posing as a legitimate institution. The originator wants vital information that could lead to identity theft, explains Petrov.
Last year, online criminals recorded infamous numbers while the rest of us struggled with the pandemic. A recent FBI report noted that the take was $4.2 billion from almost 800,000 reported crimes involving seniors to millennials and Gen-Zers. Every day, we are increasingly threatened by scams and snoops, and new threats are down the highway, including cyber-intrusions from the sophisticated telematics systems in new cars.
Not surprisingly, last year’s biggest risk was online purchase scams, as brick-and-mortar locations closed or reduced shopping hours, pushing buyers to the net, says Samantha Knecht, director of IT for the BBB Serving the Pacific Southwest, based in Phoenix, referencing the group’s 2020 Scam Tracker Risk Report. Cybercriminals are viruses: They attack vulnerabilities.
Social media on smartphones and computers is a too well trusted tool, and scammers enjoy chatting with you. Recent data shows that of the victims who said they were exposed to a social media scam, 91% connected with the scammers who beat the odds, reaping ill-gotten gains 53% of the time. Consult the BBB Scam Tracker to avoid fraud, she suggests.
The BBB also notes that those handy smart home devices such as doorbells, heating/air conditioner controls, child monitors, and window blinds may also be vulnerable, providing an open door into your home for the bad guys and girls.
“Scammers are great actors, too, often impersonating your trusted connections through fake email accounts,” Knecht says.
Software is even available to disguise phone numbers. That’s my office calling? Actually, it’s someone who has easily found out where you work and replaced their number with your boss’s.
And, cryptocurrency scams are popular, as this net-based payment protocol becomes more widely used. She advises to check in at www.bbb.org/crypto before making any investment decisions.
Of Kids and Cars
Your children, at home and away from home, are more and more vulnerable. And your new cars, your second-largest lifetime purchase, can be threatened, too.
Scottsdale’s Derek Jackson has co-founded Cyber Drive, a software that presents a child’s online data to their parents in a simple and unbiased manner.
“We encourage the development of healthy online habits while bridging the digital gap between parents and children,” he says.
A Phoenix native and Arizona State University alumnus, Jackson served with the U.S. Army for nearly five years as a military intelligence officer in Kuwait, Jordan, and Syria, analyzing the social media activity of radical insurgents.
“The malicious content I spent my days combing through created an all-consuming concern for the reality we live in. This fueled my passion for protecting children, including my own, from the potential dangers of social media,” he explains.
In Mesa, after his service, he partnered with Mount Everest summiter, Jeff Gottfurcht, to create the company in 2019.
“Jeff was inspired by the story of a young girl who had been sexually assaulted, exploited online and bullied as a result. It was obvious to both of us that big tech was not doing its due diligence to protect children, and we committed to finding a modern solution for parents and children.”
The free web application is accessible on all digital devices and connects with Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, Google, YouTube, and VSCO. Your child’s data is organized into a Parent Dashboard, where you can see their activity and respond accordingly.
Jackson compares their cyberactivity to learning to drive correctly.
“The severe consequences that come with the irresponsible use of social media can be as detrimental as a car crash, yet there are no requirements in place to teach children these online social skills,” he says.
Today’s cars today are equipped with a high level of technology, some of this telematics, which transfers information from your vehicle via wireless networks. Data includes location, speed, idling time, harsh acceleration or braking, fuel consumption, vehicle faults, and more. These systems can connect variously through smart phones, Bluetooth devices, ports, 12-volt connectors, onboard systems, cellular networks/SIM cards, and WiFi.
First-generation auto-sensing technology 30-plus years ago was designed to improve road safety and the environment. Today’s telematics, which focuses on connectivity, was introduced 10–15 years ago, explains Nathaniel Meron, chief product and marketing officer at Israel-based C2A Security, an automotive cybersecurity solutions provider dedicated to protecting today’s and tomorrow’s connected vehicles.
The information provided to car makers and insurance companies can reduce rates and improve our roads, and drivers can learn about bad driving habits, connect to helpful apps, and even locate stolen vehicles. But this connectivity can create problems. “Cyber-attacks that exploit the increasing digitization of vehicles present a significant risk to manufacturers, vehicle owners, other drivers and pedestrians,” he explains.
When vehicle control is completely computerized, as it will be with autonomous vehicles, attackers will attempt to use telematics to propagate into the vehicle ECUs or try to attack them remotely, controlling the steering wheel, brakes, gas, and breach privacy information stored in the vehicle. And, what if this vehicle information becomes available through internet browsing as easily as you would search for quality paper towels? It’s the new dark-net gaming sensation: Amy Smith’s 2030 SUV telematics data in real time? Here you go…
Consider ransomware, which last month threatened much of the East Coast’s energy supply, causing panic buying. Text: “Amy’s car is now under our control, with your two beautiful children, Jason and Elise, inside. Please transfer these funds within one hour to save them.”
C2A has approached this as a company with a multi-layered technology suite fitting into any automotive ECU. In addition, the industry is moving to enact regulations to protect automobiles from potential dangerous cyberattacks through the ISO 21434 standard and United Nations Economic Commission For Europe WP.29.
“One of the most important aspects of these new standards is the post-production and dynamic approach to cybersecurity threats which requires the manufacturer to be able to react to new and unknown attacks across the vehicle lifecycle,” Meron says.
What to Do?
Be vigilant regarding all activity that connects you electronically with others.
“On social media, don’t be too quick to click,” BBB’s Knecht notes. If it sounds too good, it’s bad. Don’t download everything you’re offered. Your security could be up for grabs.”
And, secure your smart devices, install anti-malware on your smartphone, and encrypt your devices and secure your logins.
“Change passwords often, and keep them long and strong. Passphrases are more complex and may be more secure,” she says.
For your new car, petition the OEMs to cybersecure their vehicles across the lifecycle, Meron suggests. And, “Apply safe behavior as for any connected device such as avoiding unknown networks and consuming content [only] from trusted sources.”
Petrov recommends that you don’t provide any personal information to untrusted sites. And, regularly check your credit card reports to ensure that only what you’ve bought has been posted.
And, “Let’s not forget to mention all of the great cybersecurity software such VPNs, antivirus products and 2FA, two-factor authentication, which requires more than one piece of evidence for a hacker to access your accounts, email or other apps you use.”
To protect your treasured children, direct parental involvement is essential in today’s super-connected world.
“Setting restrictions and screen time limitations is not a realistic solution.” Jackson says. “By getting involved in your child’s social media activity early on and having constant conversations about their online experiences, you can be the one who teaches them these healthy internet habits.”
Many resources are available at www.bbb.org including its always updated Scam Tracker.