Battling cybercrime

Battling cybercrime
Local experts tout the importance of vigilance during National Cyber Security Awareness Month

By Brett Auten

Today’s crooks, thieves, and con men come in all forms and shapes, and can strike from all corners of the globe.

We have all seen the emails by now. By the thousands, over the course of the year they come across with warnings of our vital accounts beings closed, or mounds of Scrooge-McDuck-riches awaiting us. There are the sob stories of people in desperate circumstances who just need a charitable soul to help them with a money transfer. Tricking people to fork over pertinent financial information is one of the many ways criminals scam people online. October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and most of us believe we have a leg up on these scams and could sniff one out from a mile away, but it’s not necessarily that easy.

Across the world, cybercrime is booming and millions are victimized by online scams, whether it’s blocking access to a website, stealing medical or credit card information, or attempting to extort money by remotely holding the contents of a personal computer hostage, it is happening on an hourly basis.

In St. Charles County, Val Joyner, Public Affairs Officer with the St. Charles County Police Department, said that credit card fraud is the most common cybercrime reported in the area.

According to Joyner, the St. Charles County Cybercrime team advises citizens that if your credit card or identity is used to compromise your bank account, the first thing you do as a victim is notify your banking institution. Second, you should notify the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction in which you live and let them know of the crime committed against you.  Bring any documentation of loss and banking records when you file your report. The information gathered from the report will be used to determine crime trends, and the prosecution will be determined based on the outcome of the investigation.

The term cybercrime is a broad umbrella and can be perpetrated from computer experts looking to outdo each other, to businesses trying to gain an advantage by hacking a competitor’s website, or criminal rings looking to snag your personal information and then sell it on black markets.

St. Charles’ Barry Herring, with CMIT Solutions, has seen them all.

“Every day it changes,” said Herring, who has over 20-years’ experience in the field. “Cybercrimes have been around from the start.”

The current hot-button trend in cybercrime is ransomware.

Local governments, school districts, hospitals businesses small and large have felt the impact of ransomware, a type of virus that encrypts, or locks ups valuable digital files and demands a “ransom” to release them. Home computers are just as susceptible to ransomware with the loss of personal items (family photos, videos, medical histories, and other data) can be heartbreaking.

In a ransomware attack, once a victim eyes an e-mail addressed to them, opens and clicks on an attachment that by appearances seem legitimate, like an invoice or an electronic fax, but inside is a ransomware code. Or an e-mail might contain a legitimate-looking URL, but when clicked on, directed to a website that infects their computer with malicious software. Once the infection takes hold, the malware begins encrypting files and folders and users not aware they have been infected until they can no longer access data or are sent computer messages advising them of the attack and demands for a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. These messages include instructions on how to pay the ransom, usually with bitcoins because of the anonymity this virtual currency provides. The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack.

Herring also warns of spoof domains and/or spoof email accounts that look familiar but may have one letter or a number askew.

“If you are not paying attention it can become tricky,” Herring said. “If you find yourself or a friend or a loved one who has gotten themselves caught up in a potential credit card fraud, we encourage our clients to start off with refusing all charges and to have the company cancel and re-issue a new card. Through social media, email, they’ve figured it out. Be aware and don’t click on a file if you’re not 100-percent certain where it came from.”

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