Don’t Fall for Tricks Masked as Treats: Cybersecurity Awareness Month Tips

By Mary Merritt, Guru Information Systems Security Officer, TechFlow

  • You receive an email that tells you: “Great news!  If you click on the link below in the next hour, you will receive a $100 gift certificate!!!”
  • A random text pops up asking: “Would you like to see your name with fireworks?  Just click here!”
  • Co-worker shares funny animal pictures that say “just click on this link!”
  • Your smart TV has a link to the newest movie. You really want to see this movie but should you click on the link?
  • Your bank sends you an email with a warning which tells you to click on the link and log into your account to check for fraudulent activity.

Sound familiar? These links come through email and text and on your mobile phone or even Smart TV. But, what do these seemingly innocent prompts have in common? They are all potential phishing emails that could download malware or other malicious software meant to restrict access to one of these devices unless a ransom is paid (ransomware).

How do you protect yourself?

The easiest way to protect yourself is to use common sense and don’t click on links. If something appears too good to be true, it probably is. Another best practice is to keep a recent backup of all your critical stuff (like photos, personal documents, and account login information or payment details) in a separate place. Remember, if you download malware or a virus it can infect all your devices, especially if you have devices connected through iCloud, Google, or Internet of Things (IoT) such as Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home.

Be careful when opening attachments from people you don’t know. Always be suspicious. Try to avoid clicking on links and instead go to the site directly to validate the claim.  Don’t click on links in texts or open Skype or other messages that seem odd, even if they are from a friend.  A recent scam involved sending an urgent request for money for a “friend” who was out of the country and could not be reached. The “friend” was not out of the country nor asking for assistance, but many people sent money wanting to help. The only person who benefited was the scammer.

Remember to keep your computer up to date with operating system, apps, and other critical updates. For your IoT devices, connect them through one point instead of having them connected through the internet.

I hope these tips can help you stay safer in your daily interactions. You may feel like you’d never fall for any of these tricks, but scammers are very good at making things sound just official enough or friendly enough to be trusted sources. My best advice is to think twice before taking the treats and clicking links.

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