By Don Dobson
In epidemiology, the means for the transmission of disease is termed a “vector.” In the world of online privacy, your personal email address is one of the prime vectors by which your privacy can be compromised. If you’re not using a Dodoname to interact with merchants, you’re leaving yourself open to these top five privacy concerns (which can have some very scary repercussions!)
Wikipedia defines phishing as the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money) by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.
Although not the only means, email is one of the main vectors for phishing. At Dodoname, we like to keep up to date on the latest developments in cybercrime through email phishing scams. We see that the scammers are relentless and that anyone can be a victim: criminals shamelessly exploit the latest news, such as recent attempts linked to the Ebola scare gripping the world or even attack children. It also a big problem for businesses as employees can be fooled and surrender corporate information or provide a pathway for hacking of retailer systems.
Phishing still thrives because it remains a simple game and the power of easily sending millions of emails every day allows the bad guys to fill their quotas. Old scams are still making the rounds and claiming victims. And the fact is, email remains a very popular communication channel. Unfortunately, it’s true that real dangers can place themselves in your inbox. Here’s a start on some help to stay out of trouble and also some advice if you have taken the bait.
2. Data breaches
Retailers in particular have shown themselves to be vulnerable to hacker attacks which result in a “breach” of security measures protecting customer data, as have financial institutions.
You may think “that’s their problem” but it could also be a problem for you. Depending on the nature of the data breach, personal information you have shared with companies, including credit card information, may become available for use by criminals and/or be re-sold in criminal markets. Ironically, this can result in even more effective phishing emails as criminals use information already stolen to become more credible to email recipients in what is known as “spear-fishing.”
There is nothing you can do to prevent these breaches, but they are the top of the list of concerns for company executives. Customers are striking back. Many consumers will stop patronizing companies who have had a data breach while some victims of these attacks have joined lawsuits against retailers like Home Depot.
Email phishing can have many consequences. One of those is the installation of malware on your device. There are many varieties of malware “in-the-wild,” some malicious, some not so much, but none have any business on your device. Among the types of malware that can impact you are “key-loggers,” which send back everything you type online to criminals. This information would include details of all your online activity including banking website passwords.
And the thing is, you don’t always even need to click on anything. Just visiting some sites exposes you to these sneaky downloads through “malvertising.” You might think that staying away from seedy corners of the Internet would protect you, but the truth is even reputable sites can be hacked in these ways through ad exchanges.
4. Identity theft
Identity thieves have many different ways to strike: over the phone or through something as low-tech as criminals sifting through your trash, or through email phishing attacks. Online theft of personal identity and it has become a major problem worldwide. Criminals can use your identity and credit card information to make purchases, take out loans or conduct any illicit financial transaction.
Identity thieves can be individuals at the local level or international organized criminal operations. Even using free wi-fi at a coffee shop can open you up to identity theft. It’s clear that these types of cybercrime enterprises are a growth business.
5. Data brokers
A much broader concern for personal privacy than the vector of phishing emails and malware criminals is an industry that operates “legitimately” but without much regulatory protection for consumers. Testimony by Pam Dixon, Executive Director, World Privacy Forum appearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, suggests that somewhere around 4,000 companies in the U.S. gather identity information left by the “digital exhaust” of your online activity. Dixon cites real harm to individuals resulting from these activities and notes “Despite the large and growing size of the industry, until this Committee started its work, this entire industry largely escaped public scrutiny. Privacy laws apply to credit bureaus and health care providers, but data broker activity generally falls outside these laws. Even a knowledgeable consumer lacks the tools to exercise any control over his or her data held by a data broker.”
(Image: Flickr, Sebastien Wiertz, link)