Cyber Defense Starts With You!

Posted: Updated:
Elaine Bedel established Bedel Financial in 1989 in Indianapolis. Elaine Bedel established Bedel Financial in 1989 in Indianapolis.

Cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Yahoo have made headlines recently. In both cases, emails were hacked and important personal information accessed by cyber criminals. It's rampant! What can you do to protect yourself?

When personal email accounts of the top individuals at the Democratic National Committee officials were hacked, information of a sensitive nature was released to the public. Did this impact the election? Who knows, but the lasting impression should be that no one's information on the internet is 100 percent safe! We were reminded of this again when Yahoo acknowledged that their system was hacked in 2013 and 2014 and 1.5 billion users had their personal data compromised!

While you may think this requires an extremely complicated and sophisticated attack to breach such a major political institution as the DNC or companies the size of Yahoo, that’s not the case. What important lessons can be learned from this?

Simpler Than You Might Think

Recent reports from The New York Times have revealed that the DNC hackers gained access to the email accounts via simple "phishing" emails. So what is phishing? Phishing uses an innocent-looking email to entice recipients to click on a deceptive link, giving hackers access to their information or network.

More specifically, "spear-phishing" emails are tailored to fool a specific person. In the case of the DNC hacks, the phony emails contained warnings such as "someone just used your password to try to sign into your Google account" and then offered a large-sized link to "Change Password." This link, however, was a portal that gave hackers access to their email account and personal information.

These harmful breaches aren't always targeted at government officials or large institutions. Millions of successful hacks that don’t make national headlines bait people into giving up their personal information with the simple click of a button. While this is not the only method employed by hackers, there are a few precautions that can be taken to ensure you do not fall victim to similar breaches.

Don't Follow That Link!

We can all learn from the example above:  If an unsolicited email prompts an action such as account maintenance or a password reset, do not follow the link!  While you may be 99.9 perfect certain that the email came from a trusted source, your best practice is to open a new browser window, go to the account website, log in and proceed.  Hackers are constantly improving the believability of such attempts, and it can be difficult to distinguish a legitimate email from a phony one.

This also applies to web browsing, which can provide opportunities for hackers via socially engineered "Trojans." This use of the term Trojan is derived from the ancient Greek story of the wooden horse disguised as a gift that was used to help Greek troops invade the city of Troy.

Trojan viruses work in a similar fashion. They are generally disguised as popular computer programs or antivirus software prompting the user to download an update to improve their system’s security.  Once the user follows the download process, they effectively invite the virus into their system - similar to the Trojan horse being invited into the city of Troy - and all sorts of information can be compromised.  It is important to note that this type of attack is typically not orchestrated by the website itself.  Rather, the website has been temporarily hijacked as a portal to prompt its visitors to hand over their information.

Caution: Free Public Wi-Fi

While traveling on vacation or simply stopping in at the local coffee shop between meetings, be careful using the free public Wi-Fi. These Wi-Fi systems are not highly secure and generally do not encrypt the important information you are sending over the internet. For this reason, avoid connecting to websites where you need to use passwords and/or enter credit card information.

Cyber criminals have gotten even smarter. They have found a way to take advantage of your desire to stay connected by creating an alternate network with a name and look similar to the free Wi-Fi you are trying to utilize. To avoid this direct hacking of your information, check with the establishment to ensure the network name and password you are using is legitimate.

Stop.Think.Connect.

Homeland Security has developed a campaign to educate and enable individuals to prevent hackers from stealing their personal information as well as identifying and reporting questionable websites and activities. The only way to stop cyber criminals is for each of us to be knowledgeable enough to avoid the hacker's traps. You can find out more information by clicking here.

Contributions were made to this article by Anthony Harcourt, a Portfolio Manager at Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc.

Elaine E. Bedel, CFP, is CEO and president of Bedel Financial Consulting, Inc., a wealth management firm located in Indianapolis. She is a featured guest each Wednesday on the WTHR (NBC, Indianapolis) Channel 13 News at Noon, "Your Money" segment. Elaine's book, "Advice You Never Asked For... But wished you had," is available on Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.BedelFinancial.com or email Elaine at ebedel@bedelfinancial.com.

  • Perspectives

    • Overseas Outsourcing Can Create a World of Problems

      The internet broke down geographic barriers for businesses, making it possible to find lower-cost suppliers around the world. But if companies lack the knowledge and skills to manage those suppliers properly, they may end up spending far more than expected. We’ve worked with companies all over the globe to help our clients meet their advertising and marketing objectives while protecting their budgets. While most of those working relationships have been positive, we’ve had...
    More

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • ‘Potential’ Fueling Downtown Makeover in Fort Wayne

      As Fort Wayne prepares to christen its latest big downtown project, Mayor Tom Henry says there are no signs of transformational development slowing down in the state’s second largest city. The Landing, a $34 million downtown redevelopment project, is expected to officially open soon, one of an estimated 14 projects that Henry says can help Fort Wayne become a destination city. Since the opening of Parkview Field more than a decade ago, Henry says momentum has...

    • New study reveals best place in Indiana for young families

      And the Best Place for Young Families Goes To...

      What do you look for in a community when deciding where to start a family and raise your children? There can be several factors to weigh in making a sound decision. Housing affordability. Unemployment rates. Quality of education. Mortage website Lendingtree.com has released the results of a study pointing to the best places for young families in Indiana.

    • (photo courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana)

      Whiting Makes Way for New Building with Familiar Name

      What was an old eye-sore in Whiting will soon be replaced with a new mixed-use five-story building, attracting new business and residents.  The city of Whiting acquired the old Illiana hotel through the Lake County property tax sale process in 2013. 

    • (image courtesy of WPTA TV)

      Indiana Plants Impacted by UAW Strike

      The United Auto Workers union, which totals approximately 49,000 workers at 33 General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) plants nationwide, went on strike at midnight. The strike affects workers at GM plants in Fort Wayne, Bedford, Marion and Kokomo. The Fort Wayne plant, which assembles full-size pickup trucks, employs about 4,500 UAW workers. Our partners at WPTA-TV in Fort Wayne report several hundred were seen on the picket line throughout the day. In all, about 7,000 UAW...

    • Money magazine judges Fishers as 3rd best place to live in the U.S.

      Fishers Makes Top 10 List of 'Best Places to Live'

      Three communities in Indiana made the top 100 list of best places to live in the country, but only one made the top 10. Fishers was judged by Money magazine as the third best place to live in the United States, behind Clarksville, Tennessee and Round Rock, Texas.