Yesterday as part of our teacher in-service and staff development, we were given a “stern lecture”, as my mother would say, from one of the tech guys about the dangers of the internet. Some of us deserved it! And I hope everyone heeds his advice.
One of the dangers he pointed out is that many people out there in the world are professional predators. We tend to think of hackers as geeky college guys trying to prove their worth, or individuals targeting a particular company. But the reality is that many hackers are targeting us, regular little citizens with tiny bank accounts. They know if they can get small amounts of money from ordinary individuals it will probably go undetected. I won’t go into all of the ways they do this, but one example is to obtain bank information from phony emails and then take only $8-10 from hundreds of thousands of accounts. Would you notice if $10 had been withdrawn from your account? Maybe, maybe not. And the phony emails often look like very legitimate “account updates” from real banks. Never, never give out your account information in response to any email!
The best advice for any email is “if in doubt, delete”. Opening a phony email may not only get you into trouble, but may allow a worm, virus, or Trojan into your system. One of the “tricks of the trade” I was totally unaware of is the use of misspellings! Apparently, misspelling words allows many hackers to send spam emails that evade some security software! The software is set up to search for certain terms and misspelling those terms confuses the software. Often the misspellings are so subtle that our brains compensate for them and we don’t even notice them when we read the email!
Another problem on the internet is the lame passwords used by most people. Despite repeated warnings since the invention of the computer, people continue to use personal words for their passwords. Names of pets, children, parents, streets, or anything else tied to your personal life should not be used! Our tech guy says they will require all new passwords for our system to have a capital letter, number, symbol (*&%$) and at least eight characters. All of this is to prevent the bad guys from guessing your password based on personal information. Think for a minute how many clues they can obtain just from Facebook! (And don’t keep a copy of your password next to your computer, especially at work.)
So…a few words of wisdom from cyberspace this morning. Be aware and beware!