Increasingly, when we are out and about, we use smartphones and other mobile devices to surf the Internet, connect with each other via social media and make purchases online.
With that in mind, yesterday I attended “Get Connected! A Technology Fair for 50+.” The event was sponsored by the OASIS Institute and AARP California, among others.
Typically what interests me about a technology event such as this is the opportunity to get some expert help with computer issues (yes, even Macs have issues). At one of the one-on-one help tables, I saw someone who appeared to be an expert with a MacBook helping a woman. I assumed that he was helping her with an Apple computer problem, so I sat down to wait until he was free.
Soon I realized that they were not discussing computer problems. Then I noticed a small sign offering help with online security. I learned that this expert was San Diego Deputy District Attorney Brendan McHugh. He is the Project Director of the CATCH TEAM (Computer And Technology Crime High Tech Response Team).
As I listened intently to what they were discussing, I began to realize just how little I actually knew about online security. Sure, I know not to click on suspicious links and to place credit card orders only on trusted websites, but there are many other things to watch out for online. I asked Brendan some questions. His answers were disturbing.
Then he left to give a formal presentation to our group. I had a choice: Get in line for a free box lunch or risk missing that lunch to hear his presentation. I went to the presentation, and I am so glad that I did. Here are some highlights of what he told us:
• Protect your devices. This means installing security software and then performing all of the security updates as soon as they are available. For years, so-called experts have told me that Macs do not need such protection. That is simply not true.
• Be cautious when using wireless (Wi-Fi). Do not do ANY financial transactions on public Wi-Fi, such as at coffee shops and in airport terminals. If you do, you might just as well hand over your credit card information to the bad guys and save them the minimal effort that they’d need to make to steal it. Criminals can use software to see what is on computers and smartphones that are connected via public Wi-Fi. They also can create Wi-Fi hotspots with names similar to the legitimate ones.
• If you have your own Wi-Fi network, make sure that its level of encryption is WPA2, which is more secure than WPA. However, be aware that videos on YouTube show how to hack both.
• For security, limit your online financial transactions to websites that begin with https.
• Use secure passwords, change them regularly and do not use the same password for everything. A secure password has odd combinations of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and special characters, making them difficult to guess.
• GPS-enabled cameras can embed the location of where your photos were taken. The employee who posted a photo of himself standing in trays of salad at a Burger King was tracked down using embedded data in his photo. Someone else used technology to track a woman’s supposedly anonymous photo to her social media page, where he found her real name.
• Be wary of unsolicited contact from strangers. They may find information about you on social media to trick you into thinking that they know you.
• If you are contacted by someone who claims to be from Microsoft and wants to help you repair your computer, that is a scam. With remote access screen sharing, they can see everything on your computer. They can spoof email addresses and caller ID numbers.
• Banks and the IRS will never call and ask you to provide your confidential information. If in doubt, find a phone number for the business or agency and try to call them.
• Protect what is on your computer by setting up an Administrator account for yourself, and limited access User accounts for guests and children. Free apps such as games may include malware to steal your information.
• Assume that your shared information on social media can never be fully removed.
For more on minimizing the risks of being online, visit:
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Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters+ #357