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What Not To Do This Black Friday?

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Guest written by James Lyne, Global Head of Security Research, Sophos

Instead of creating the traditional ‘top tips to protect yourself from cyber-criminals this Shopping Season’, Sophos has turned it on its head to create the Shopping Season Security Checklist which will highlight the top 10 consumer traits that leave you vulnerable to cyber-criminals.

  1. Use a password that’s easy to remember, like ‘Password’ or ‘123456’. Though they are easy to remember, for a cyber-criminal this is like giving candy to a baby. A password like this can be cracked in less than a second.
  2. Have the same password for everything so it’s easy to remember. It’s a lot of hassle having to have a separate password for our online banking, online shopping and email accounts. However, remember if a cyber criminal has access to one password they have access to all your accounts and the plethora of data they contain.
  3. Create a ‘log-in and password’ folder on your phone or in your email. So, you have different passwords and usernames – that’s great. But keeping a folder with all of the information in is a hacker’s dream and one that is easier to access than you might think. You’re better off using a password manager that you know is secure.
  4. Ignore notifications to update your phone or your laptop. We all get frustrated by notifications asking us to update the software on our laptops or iPhones, and it’s so easy to ignore or click remind me later. But some updates will have important security patches that really need to be carried out.
  5. Open links or attachments in an email from an unknown sender. Has curiosity ever got the better of you, and you’ve been desperate to know what’s in the attachment or tempted to click a malicious looking link? Phishing emails are going from strength to strength and some are even fooling the pros, but as a rule of thumb never open it if you’re not expecting it.
  6. Replying to emails that notify you of unusual activity on your account. The majority of ‘fraud alert’ or ‘account compromise’ emails these days tend to be scams. Don’t reply to them or click on the links, but instead go directly to the website of the provider (or phone them) to check for issues. Clicking a link in one of these emails and ‘signing in’ is a classic way to lose your login information.
  7. Click ‘remember me’ when you log into sites. It’s convenient to be able to go on a site and already be logged in, but do you want to allow a cyber criminal access to your Facebook account for example? Always log out and never tick the ‘remember me’ box.
  8. Believe deals that are too good to be true – there’s no such thing as a free iPhone. We’re all after a good bargain this Black Friday, but this also presents cyber criminals with an opportunity to steal your information by offering you the most competitive deals. Use your initiative to know what is real and what isn’t, and if you aren’t sure, don’t take the risk.
  9. Connect to an unknown Wi-Fi network. It’s important to be confident that the Wi-Fi you’re connecting to is secure. Otherwise all the data on your phone from your Facebook account to your banking apps could be infiltrated by a cyber criminal. If you’re not sure it’s secure but you really need to connect, you could use VPN.
  10. Don’t check your transactions and miss any fraudulent activity on your cards. These days it’s much harder to check every transaction on our bank statements, however the Christmas shopping period is the most important time of year to be doing this in order to avoid falling victim to fraud. If you discover payments that you can’t identify, notify your bank immediately.
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Expert Speak

Why You Should Use a VPN While Traveling

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According to a survey conducted by NordVPN, 50% of travellers use public Wi-Fi while on the road. However, only 20% of them use a VPN (a virtual private network) to protect themselves while being connected to a public network. “Travelers connect to public Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, parks, and trains. Some even use public computers to print their visa information or flight tickets. A VPN in those cases is crucial if you want to make sure that your vacation will not be ruined by cyber criminals. Nobody wants to lose access to their device or their bank account during a trip to a foreign country,” says Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN.

As International VPN day (August 19th) is just around the corner, Markuson lists all the benefits offered by the service.

Enhanced online security
The main purpose of a VPN is to keep its user’s online connection secure even when they are away from home. Hackers can set up fake hotspots or access unsecured public routers and this way monitor users’ online activity. Once a user is connected, criminals can intercept their internet traffic, infect the device with malware, and steal their victim’s personal information.

When authenticating themselves on public Wi-Fi, users often need to type in their email address or phone number. However, if a user has accidentally connected to a hacker’s hotspot, they could be exposing themselves to real danger.

A VPN hides users’ IP addresses and encrypts their online activity. That means that, even if a user is using a malicious hotspot, the hacker behind it won’t be able to monitor their activity. Therefore, getting a VPN for travelling abroad is essential if you want to stay secure and private online.

Grab the best deals
Depending on the country in which you’re located, the prices for airline tickets, car reservations, and hotels might vary. That’s because businesses know that people in different countries can and will pay higher amounts for certain products and services. If you use a VPN for travel, you can hop between servers in different countries and find the best deals available.

Make the best of additional VPN features
As the industry is evolving, many VPN providers add new features to make their users’ experience even more wholesome. NordVPN, for example, recently added the Meshnet feature that lets travellers connect to other devices directly no matter where in the world they are. This enables users to form a remote connection with their home or office PC from anywhere in the world to share files or for other uses.

However, having said that, please check local laws and regulations about using VPN services on your devices, before you do.

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Social Media Data Leaks Account for 41% of All Records Breached

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Written by Edward G, Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN

Social media is quickly turning into a primary security weak point. A single data breach within one of the major social media networks can result in millions of records being stolen. Within the past few years, we have seen multiple large-scale data breaches involving companies like Facebook and Twitter. Yet, we rarely see the bigger picture.

Luckily, data presented by Atlas VPN gives insight into the scope of the issue. It turns out that 41% of all compromised records in 2021 originated from social media data leaks, which is a significant upsurge compared to 25% in 2020. The data presented is based on the 2022 ForgeRock Consumer Identity Breach Report, which gathered data from various sources, such as 2021 Identity Theft Resource Center, IBM Ponemon, TechCrunch, Forrester Research, as well as UpGuard, and IdentityForce.

A few other factors make social media a security weak point within the current online landscape. First, criminals can prey on business clients by posing as the company in order to obtain credentials. This is becoming especially prevalent since companies increasingly use social networks to communicate with customers.

Second, fraudsters frequently attempt to infiltrate businesses by leveraging mutual connections, which create a false sense of security. Moreover, people who overshare on social media make it simple for thieves to locate personal information that aids in company breaches.

Besides social networks, another major source of leaked information is the retail sector, which accounted for nearly a quarter of all records breached in 2021. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division, e-commerce sales increased by 50% during the pandemic. Retail data breaches increased in frequency and severity during the same period.

While the average cost of a retail breach was $2.01 million in 2020, it increased by 63% to $3.27 million in 2021. Customer credit card, payment information, and personal data were the principal targets of retail data breaches. E-commerce websites and applications sometimes skip security precautions like two-factor authentication (2-FA) as they seek a simple user experience.

When the enormous volumes of personal data that retail websites collect are not adequately protected, it creates the ideal environment for breaches and subsequent fraud. Finally, the healthcare sector is worth mentioning with only 1% of records, yet, at the same time, the information leaked is usually particularly sensitive.

Data compromised from healthcare institutions tend to include name, address, SSN, date of birth, and, in two-thirds of the breaches, actual medical history information. With this information in hand, cybercriminals can blackmail companies or even particular individuals.

To round up the findings, it’s obvious that retail and social media companies should go the extra mile in securing their customer information. In addition, even though healthcare providers leak only a fraction of the data, they should still safeguard their client data with particular care due to the sensitive nature of the information.

Some services offer data breach monitoring tools. Data breach monitors track any data breaches related to your online accounts. It automatically scans leaked databases and informs you of any past or recent breaches where your personal information was exposed.

As always, we must mention the most effective countermeasure against data leaks. It is advised to enable multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts that offer the functionality. This way, even if your credentials are compromised, threat actors will not be able to access your account unless you lose your phone, and it is also found by ill-meaning individuals, which is less than likely.

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Expert Speak

Airline and Booking Services Scams Intensify at the Height of the Holiday Season

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Vacation season is well and truly upon us, and travellers around the world are looking for interesting places to go, cheap places to stay and reasonably priced flights. And scammers are here to give them what they need — well, sort of. Kaspersky researchers have observed intensified scamming activities, with numerous phishing pages distributed under the guise of airline and booking services. To help travellers avoid scams, company researchers share some of the most widespread fraud schemes used to lure victims as well as helpful tips on how to plan a safe, scam-free, vacation.

Fake Ticket Aggregators
Most trips start with a plane or train ticket, and travel enthusiasts are often interested in getting their hands on a bargain. Kaspersky experts have seen numerous fake websites claiming to offer users the chance to buy aeroplane tickets at cheaper costs. Such websites are usually well-made phishing pages that mimic famous airline services and air ticket aggregators. Some of these websites even display the details of real flights, with experienced phishers sending search requests to flight aggregators and displaying the information received from them. However, instead of delivering on promised flight tickets they keep your money and use your personal information for malicious purposes (e.g. selling your bank details and identifying information on the dark web).

Fake Lotteries for Discounted Tickets
There are also plenty of fake pages attempting to lure travellers with aeroplane ticket draws, lotteries and gift cards. Users are offered the opportunity to take a small survey and enter their personal details in exchange for a generous discount on a flight ticket. As with many other offers that seem to be too good to be true, such websites end up being phishing sites, collecting victims’ personal information and card details.

On top of this, the survey usually ends with a request to distribute the site among friends to receive the prize. In such cases, cybercriminals are using the victims themselves as a tool for spreading the scam further. A link sent by people you know seems more trustworthy than one received from a stranger. If the user then follows the link and tries to get their prize, they often find they need to pay a commission or fee first. After this money is paid, the cybercriminals disappear – without rewarding the user.

Fake Rentals
Another popular tactic used to scam travellers is fake rental services. One example includes the offer of a luxury two-bedroom apartment close to the centre of a European capital for just €500 a month. Another seemingly appealing offer is for the rental of an entire four-bedroom house with a pool and fireplace for only €1,000 for the whole month. The reviews describe amazing vacations and hospitable hosts. This encourages users to pay for their month-long stay, but in reality, they end up sending their money to fraudsters.

“Planning a vacation is not easy. People can spend weeks, even months, looking for the perfect place to stay and the tickets to get them there. Fraudsters use this to lure users that have grown tired of searching for great deals. After two years of flight restrictions imposed by the pandemic, travelling is back. But so are travel scams – with intensified scamming activity targeting users through fake booking and rental services. Such attacks are totally preventable, which is why we urge users to be sceptical about overly generous offers. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is,” comments Mikhail Sytnik, a security expert at Kaspersky.

To keep yourself protected while planning a vacation, Kaspersky experts recommend:

  1. Carefully look at the address bar before entering any sensitive information, such as your login details and password. If something is wrong with the URL (i.e. spelling, it doesn’t look like the original or it uses some special symbols instead of letters) don’t enter anything on the site. If in doubt, check the certificate of the site by clicking on the lock icon to the left of the URL.
  2. Only book your stay and tickets through the trusted websites of trusted providers. Ideally, type the address of their website manually in the address bar.
  3. Not clicking on links that come from unknown sources (either through e-mails, messaging apps or social networks).
  4. Visiting the business’ official website if you see a giveaway offered in e-mail or on social media by a travel company or an airline to confirm the giveaway exists. You should also carefully check the links the giveaway ad leads you to.
  5. Using a good security solution that can protect you from spam emails and phishing attacks. We recommend Kaspersky Security Cloud.
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