On high alert for cyber theft



Massive data breaches are hitting American consumers with alarming regularity—Home Depot, Target, Equifax—and millions of private accounts have been compromised. The latest developments are further proof that the computer and computer networks have become a total breeding ground for crime.

The best way for people to protect themselves from hackers and online scams is through awareness and knowledge, Jake Nonnemaker, chief executive for the Westlake Village internet security firm Axicom Inc. told guests at a recent cyber safety seminar in Westlake.

About 20 people attended the presentation at City Hall to learn about the latest online scams and how to safeguard their personal data.

In addition to explaining how tech-support ploys and ransomware attacks operate, Nonnemaker, who hosts a weekly technology podcast, gave advice on password management, data backups and smartphone security.

“There are a lot of new threats out there, and many of them are technological, (involving) social engineering, where they come at you trying to trick you,” Nonnemaker said.

Ransomware is one of the fastest growing malware threats, targeting home users, corporate networks, law enforcement and healthcare networks. In a ransomware attack, users are locked out of their computer files and must pay to get them back.

Although antivirus programs are getting better at catching malicious programs, Nonnemaker said, the only sure way for people and businesses to preserve their files is through regular backups, which should be done on a removable hard drive at home and with a reputable cloud storage service.

People should also make sure their anti-virus and security software are up-to-date, he said, and they should beware of emailphishing scams and pop-up windows that may come from compromised websites.

Never open an email attachment unless you trust the sender and are expecting the message, Nonnemaker said.

In the fake-virus scheme, a pop-up alert tells the user that their computer is infected. In some cases, the victim is instructed to contact a call center where an operator may request money to remove the so-called virus or ask for remote access to remove it from the victim’s computer.

“Don’t believe claims that they are from legitimate companies such as Apple or Microsoft. . . . Never give remote access to a stranger,” Nonnemaker said.

More than 80 percent of call center scams operate out of India —and cause $1.5 billion in losses to Americans, he said.

Westlake Village City Manager Ray Taylor said Nonnemaker offered to host the free presentation mainly to help local seniors stay safe in the technological age.

“Anytime you can get information out about protecting your personal information it’s a good thing,” Taylor said. “We provide various programs for seniors, and this falls right in line with some of the other efforts that we’re doing.”

Nonnemaker said seniors and children are the most susceptible to internet threats.

He also urged attendees to beware of websites and spam emails that offer cheap prescription drugs.

With the price of medication so high in the U.S., many people are turning to the internet to purchase drugs.

But according to the FBI, counterfeit prescription drugs can be dangerous because they could be contaminated or contain the wrong ingredients. Even those that have the right active ingredient might contain the wrong dosage.

Another online threat that Nonnemaker spoke about is the botnet attack in which an entire network of private computers becomes infected with malicious software that is used by the crook as a vehicle to send spam and steal data.

Strong passwords and regular data backups are the best way to protect personal information on computers and smartphones, Nonnemaker said.

He suggested using four random words or a phrase rather than a complicated password that’s hard to remember.

Each website and email account should have distinct passwords. But these can be difficult for people to remember, and this is where password management services that store encrypted passwords come in handy, Nonnemaker said. The services allow users to access their email accounts and protect sites with one master keyword.

Westlake Village credit monitor Greg Spaulding recommends checking your credit report regularly and even freezing your credit files to make them accessible only to those viewers whom you have given a PIN number.

Consumers must be vigilant at every turn.

“Keep in mind that although your information may have been breached, you may not see any erroneous activity for days, if not months, after the incident,” Spaulding said.