Let’s get this out of the way: More companies need to do a better job of protecting themselves – not to mention their customers – from the theft of sensitive personal and account information by hackers.
The good news is that companies are becoming more sophisticated all the time as they learn how to better protect their systems. They are cooperating with law enforcement, and sometimes each other, to keep out criminals.
The bad news is that criminals do not need to hack the professionally deployed, sophisticated, and multi-layered defenses of your favorite big box store or bank to get what they want. They can just attack a system run by the inexperienced information security manager who oversees your home computer and mobile phone. In most cases, unfortunately, that is you.
But you can help protect yourself. During my many years with the FBI, I saw every kind of attack on business and individual computer systems. By far, the most widely used and effective was the e-mail compromise.
In an e-mail compromise, hackers pretend to be someone or some organization that you trust, insulating themselves from detection by security and antivirus protections. They get you to download a virus or give up your log in credentials so they can seize control of your computer. In some cases they then pretend to be you to order products online or trick friends or colleagues to give up something of value.
The best way to beat the e-mail compromise is to recognize the signs of this all too common attack. Here is what you might see:
The bottom line: e-mails that seem out of the ordinary should be confirmed with the purported sender via a telephone number already on file, or that is available through a trusted public source.
Businesses have a responsibility to invest in the proper resources to prevent fraud and theft. You, however, are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting your personal and account information.
Dan Larkin is an operations senior manager for PNC. He is a retired FBI unit chief and founder of the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance.
The best way to beat e-mail fraud is to recognize the signs
The Federal Trade Commission’s national ranking of complaints received by U.S. consumers:
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