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State police share safety tips for cybersecurity awareness month

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 28, 2015

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Whether it’s an email offering money for nothing or a cyber attack resulting in a breach of data, we hear about people from all over the world falling victim to Internet scams almost daily.

Just this year, Michigan residents and businesses have lost more than $20 million to cyber criminals, with the average loss per victim being $4,500, according to data from the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, said people’s lives today are more connected than ever before.

“Cybersecurity threats continue to advance, and cyber criminals are constantly evolving their tactics, which means we must take appropriate steps to protect our personal and business information when we’re online,” she said in a statement.

To encourage Michiganders to take an active role in their own cybersecurity, Gov. Rick Snyder has proclaimed October as Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

So before you reach for your iPhone or log on to your computer, the Michigan State Police want to make sure you are following a few key rules.

“One of the easiest ways to protect yourself is just to be a little bit more aware of what you are doing and where you are going,” said Richard Cruz, detective sergeant with the MSP’s Cyber Command Center.

First and foremost, Cruz said, Internet users must make sure their computer or phone systems are up to date.

“A lot of the exploits that occur on your computer system these days are taking advantage of known exploits. The easiest way to combat that is just to keep your software up to date. The reason why the updates exist is because when there are exploits to programs and apps. Once the exploits are known, the manufacturers will fix that in the way of an update, so by not keeping your app up to date, you are just opening yourself up for possible maliciousness,” he said.

It’s extremely important to password-protect all user accounts and devices that connect to the Internet, police said, and only to connect to the Internet over those secure, password-protected networks. Cruz also suggested not using the same password twice and changing your passwords on a regular basis.

“A lot of people that are being exploited are using the same password for all their different sites, so once one password is discovered, it’s easy to break into other accounts when the same password is used,” he said.

Internet users should never click on links or pop-ups, open attachments or respond to emails from strangers.

One of the most common scams, Cruz said, is “phishing” — where emails claiming to be from banks, utility companies and other businesses invite users to click on a link to a website. If you’re unsure of the sender, rather than clicking on an embedded link — which could corrupt your computer or capture sensitive information, such as user names and passwords — police say to instead type in the website name by hand.

“Right now, a lot of the big hacks and the different things that are occurring to businesses and organizations are the result of clicking on something that shouldn’t have been clicked on — phishing emails, spam emails that are being opened and taking you to areas that you think are appropriate but are actually doing bad things behind the scenes,” Cruz said.

Computer users are also urged not to respond to online requests for personally identifiable information. Cruz said most organizations will not ask for your personal information over the Internet.

“More times than not, if somebody needs to get a hold of you, because something is important enough, they are going to do so via telephone. Any company that has control over billing, a lot of those companies are going to contact you via telephone anyway and not necessarily email,” he said.

Another common cyber scam offers you something you want for nothing — like an email telling you that you’re the beneficiary of millions from someone you have never heard of or that you’ve won a foreign lottery. 

“If you think something is too good to be true, it probably is,” Cruz explained. “A lot of this stuff sounds very basic, but a lot of people get sucked into checking an email that they wouldn’t ordinarily be expecting, so doing basic things like just deleting those emails is the best you can do.”

Social media is another venue that cyber criminals use for online hoaxes. Cruz said the best way to ensure that you don’t fall victim to a social media scam is to limit whom you share information with by reviewing the privacy settings of your social media accounts.

“You can’t trust everybody. It’s hard to vet individuals that you friend on social media sites. You have to be mindful and aware of who has access to your information — especially your social media pages, because they can use the information that you post against you,” Cruz explained. “If you are posting pics of your California trip, then obviously those that have access to your social media page are going to know that the house is possibly empty. There have even been some bad situations where individuals have mentioned that they were a recipient of large amounts of money for whatever reason, only to turn around and get robbed. Keeping things a little bit more private and just being aware of what you are posting are your best bets.”

And as always, police said, if something seems suspicious, report it to the proper authorities.

To learn more about staying safe online, visit the Michigan Cyber Initiative website at www.michigan.gov/cybersecurity.

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