Weaving a Web of Worries

Dangerous cyber crooks are on the prowl in the guise of mentors and well-wishers, and it’s time to be aware and secure your personal data, writes Dennis Marcus Mathew

By Author  |  Published: 6th Jan 2019  12:55 amUpdated: 5th Jan 2019  9:58 pm

Forgot to pay the maid? Google Pay. Time to pay the mobile bill? Paytm. Pay the school fee? Teno. And now, for music, Alexa.

Was there even a life before the internet? Well, for those who think like that, the answer is, there was. And it was much safer too.

With the world gradually turning into the sci-fi one many of us saw, or gawked at, in the old Doordarshan days through serials like Space City Sigma and Indradhanush, the perils of having to tackle unknown situations too are more. Exploiting the dependency, and ignorance, of many on the internet are cyber crooks, lurking in almost every shadowy corner of the worldwide web. While some of these pounce on you the minute you miss a step, there are more dangerous ones on the prowl, throwing their arms over your shoulders, ‘guiding’ and mentoring you, but slowly weaving a web of deceit around you. Ignorance of how to keep your cyber life secure, and moments of carelessness, when you lazily leave your passwords and crucial personal data scattered here and there, are what makes their access into your life easy.

It is not just adults who are the targets of the cyber-underworld. If the latest Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) of the Europol is anything to go by, the growing number of young children with access to the internet, web-enabled devices and social media is where the eye of the criminal is now, with online child sexual exploitation to continue being the most disturbing aspect of cybercrime in 2019 as well.

Like they say, prevention is the best cure, and for that, knowing what to prevent too is crucial. The most common ways cyber criminals push you into a web of worries are email spoofing – where they send you emails that appear to be genuine and from trusted quarters; malicious file applications – which are sent through direct messaging, gaming, emails or websites to gain access into your smartphone or digital device and steal your personal data; social engineering – where they pose as well-wishers, mentors and gurus on gaming sites or social networking sites/platforms but stealthily coerce you into sharing personal data which is, then, used to loot or blackmail you; cyberbullying; identity theft; job frauds; and banking frauds.

There are more, the slightly sophisticated ones. Like cyber crooks like pretending to be your CEO. The CEO/Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud occurs when an employee authorised to make payments is tricked into paying a fake invoice or making an unauthorised transfer out of the business account.

The varieties include Phishing (emails), Vishing (calls from banks) and Smishing (Smses), and even Twishing (phishing via Twitter). Even shopping sites are now being targetted with scammers being present on the most reputable sites.

How they trick you:

  • They pretend to be your boss
  • They pretend to be a client
  • They call you, send you an SMS or email
  • They create fake bank websites
  • They pretend to be interested in a romantic relationship
  • They steal your personal data via social media
  • They make you think you are making a smart investment/buy

Precautions suggested by law enforcement agencies:

  • Check your online accounts regularly
  • Check your bank account regularly; report any suspicious activity
  • Perform online payments only on secure websites (check the URL bar for the padlock and https)
  • Banks never ask for sensitive information such as your online account credentials over phone or email
  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it’s almost always a scam
  • Keep your personal information safe and secure
  • Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites
  • Fraudsters can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam
  • If you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank immediately
  • Always report any suspected fraud attempt to the police, even if you did not fall victim

For more details, check out https://www.europol.europa.eu/activities-services/public-awareness-and-prevention-guides or https://bit.ly/2Afi6aM.