Monthly Archives: May 2014

What Vital Numbers Are Cyber Criminals Looking For?

What is the one thing that every cyber crime and identity theft requires? Information. And if you are wondering what information that answer is easy; numbers. Vital numbers. See, believe it or not, numbers dominate our life. Numbers tell everybody everything about us. Black people need to focus in these numbers to steer clear of cyber crime.

Cyber criminals are looking for eight numbers. Now keep in mind that they don’t need all eight to rob you. Just the right combination to convince someone that they are you. What numbers?

Let’s start with your phone number.  What is it cell or home number or work number? We want people to call us if necessary. But we struggle with that issue because we get annoying calls from telemarketers. or politicians during and election cycle. A lot of people prefer unlisted numbers. But you’d be surprised how many people still have numbers listed in phone books. Yes people, phone books are still being used even with the Internet. Keep in mind that many companies use your phone number to identify you. They simply use your phone number as your account number when doing business.  Its not hard for a cyber criminal to use software to make your number show up when calling these businesses. Its called caller ID spoofing. This is how information is stolen. 

Important Dates and Zip Codes

Any date can be a vital number for a cyber criminal. Including birth dates, dates you attended college, the date you started working at a certain job, when you lived at a particular address, even ZIP codes associated with your  open accounts. All these numbers help a scam artist break into your life a little at a time. This is why social media is so dangerous. Most people post this information on their Facebook account without thinking. Read, Social Media, Good, Bad & Ugly to see what criminals can learn just by reading your Facebook page. You need  to learn how to use security and privacy setting on Facebook and other social media sites. We live in the age where privacy is hard to come by.  So focus on providing as little information as possible. Or practice using incorrect or misleading information on your social media site. If the social media site you use doesn’t like it so what. Close your account. You’ll be better off. 

PIN Numbers

Card skimmers are  devices used to capture your debit or credit card information. They can be mounted on any card reading device using a magnet or some form of adhesive. The device reads the data on your card while a small camera records you as you type in your PIN number. This is a common scam. A skimmer can be anywhere. Whenever you use a ATM or other card reader give the card slot a good tug The skimmer might come off in your hand. Same for the key pad. Try to pull it off or move it. Good advice is cover your hands and be paranoid about people around you.

Social Security Numbers

This is the Holy Grail of them all. Once you lose this its pretty much over. My best advice; give it only when it is absolutely necessary. I mean ABSOLUTELY! A lot places will ask for your social security number but they don’t need it. Its up to you to decide who gets it. Make sure you know how they will use it and how they will protect it.

Bank Account  Numbers

You can find these numbers paper checks. By the way paper checks are probably the least secure way to pay for things. Use a debit card. Its quicker and easier and not likely to bounce. You may also consider using your credit card. Credit cards offer rewards for using them and buyer protections and reveal a lot less of your information.

IP Addresses

In case you didn’t know IP addresses  are the location of your computer on the Internet. This allows scam artists, malware, or other remote control software to lock the files on your computer and then demand a ransom in exchange for access. Its called ransome ware. It is often accompanied by a warning message that your IP address is associated with online criminal activity or has visited unauthorized websites like child porn. Its a common scam. It’s not difficult to track an IP address. But there are also a number of browsers that hide your IP address and associated searches. Google Chrome has a an “Incognito” function that hides your IP address. And there are fixes for ransomware, sometimes. Sometimes the scammer will encrypt your files and you may never get them back. That’s why you should have a good back up disk or location in the cloud.

Drivers License and Passport Numbers

These are critical pieces of your identity. Much like the social security number these numbers can wreck your life if they are lost.  Once a criminal has these numbers the documents can be counterfeited. Counterfeited documents are a multi-million dollar criminal industry. Personal documents undergo major makeovers featuring new names, new faces and addresses and your numbers.

Health Insurance Account Numbers

Health insurance fraud is a growing crime in this country. This fraud can jeopardize not only your credit and finances but your life as well.  Phony medical information can get mixed in with the legitimate records such as blood type and allergies and medications with deadly results. As for your credit, you could find yourself in an all out war with bill collectors and credit companies over bills that went unpaid because someone used your insurance fraudulently.

These numbers are your life. Its as simple as that. Black people need to focus on securing these numbers for themselves and their family. Know what information you release with every transaction and try to limit it as much as possible. The rules for privacy in today’s information age are made and enforced by you.

Now you know

 

 

Black Parents; Should Your Child Be On Facebook?

This is a warning to black parents everywhere. No, your child should not be on Facebook. If you have a child under 13 years old they should not be on Facebook or at least not unsupervised. Now before I go any further let me point out that I have a Facebook page and I don’t have any children. But that does not stop me from making sure you understand the mounting evidence that Facebook and social media is not a good place for children.

First and foremost, as a parent your child should not have a computer that you don’t have access to. Its simply too dangerous. If your son or daughter withdraws to their bedroom to go online then you need to put a stop to that. You need to know who they are communicating with. And don’t let a computer or video game babysit your child. Evidence indicates that this practice leads to psychological issues including addiction, withdrawal and behavioral issues. You need to budget your child’s time with electronic devices of all kinds.

But back to Facebook. Facebook is about information collection and advertising. The Center for Digital Democracy has an excellent guide to why all children, including black children, should not be using Facebook.

Everything that goes on Facebook is public unless you know and understand Facebook’s privacy and security settings. If your child set up their own account then they probably did not go that far. As a parent you need to know how to set up a Facebook account to protect yourself or your child  if you permit this.

But I don’t want to pick on Facebook alone. All social media poses a problem for children. Black parents need to stay focused on what their children are doing online until they are old enough to do it themselves.

I don’t need to tell you all about the sexual predators that lurk online and in social spaces like Facebook. You know all that.  But black parents also need to understand that information is the currency of the digital age. What information is your child giving out and to whom?

Now you know.

Don’t Forget Cyber Security Even on Vacation

canstockphoto4560982Here is some news for you. Seventeen percent of African-Americans take one or more international trips a year. Consider that we spend $48 billion on travel in the United States alone. But black people need to be alert and don’t forget cyber security even on vacation. Taking the time to focus on your cyber security can mean enjoying your days on the beach or trying to get home with maxed out credit cards and empty bank accounts.  Hackers and identity thieves do what they do for one reason, money. So before, during and after that fabulous vacation you need to make sure you are aware and alert to the scams.

Right off the bat you need to be aware that a scam is always out there waiting for you. They begin even before you leave home. For example. We are all looking for the best price on everything. That includes airline tickets. One of the hottest scams running right now is the airline voucher scam. It’s one of Online Scam’s Greatest Hits and works like this. You search Craigslist for tickets to your chosen destination and you find a really good deal. That’s clue number one. The seller needs to sell them right away or they expire and he loses the money. That’s clue number two. And finally he asks that you use a wire transfer to send the money. That’s strike three and you lose. You learn all you need to know about this scam by clicking here.

And here is the latest you better know about. You are comfortable in your hotel room and enjoying your vacation. Now here is the scam. Someone calls the hotel and asks for room #1302. Lets say that’s your room. The operator connects the caller. You answer thinking it must be the hotel since anybody else would call your cell phone. If there is a caller ID it may show the call in coming from the hotel operator.

The next thing you hear is a person claiming to be the front desk. This voice tells you that there is a problem with your credit card and they need the number and the three digit verification code found on the back. Do I need to to tell you that your vacation ends right there if you surrender this information? That is everything a criminal needs to go shopping with your card.

This scam is working because people are too lazy to walk down to the desk to ask what the problem is. You and I both know that if there was a problem with your credit card you would not be in that room. Second, if you been in the hotel a few days then there is no problem and if there is then call your credit card company. You know your business and you know your money. So why would you listen to a voice over the phone? Because these scammers are very good and sound very professional. They can be very convincing. It can happen to you. If you get a call claiming to be from the front desk of your hotel then march your ass down to the front desk and deal with it in person!

Here is a few more steps I suggest black people to take when planning a vacation and also once you are on that fabulous getaway.

When booking your vacation

Before you leave home book your hotel room, beach houses or ocean bungalows first. And use a trusted website or travel agent. Forget using the website with the best deals. You’d be surprised how many people have lost their vacation money to a phony travel website. Or found the service just plain sucks for customer service. Do your homework! Read the reviews for the services you are going to use and re-confirm your booking; not through the website but call the hotels and airlines yourself.

Some people have time shares. Or you may use a friend’s time share. VRBO.com is an outstanding source on staying safe from scams when renting directly from property owners. As matter of fact  it’s a pretty good guide for renting from anyone. Here’s a short list:

  • Ask the owner for referrals from previous renters
  • A popular scam is the phony property owner scam. Check the property for a homeowners association and ask if the person offering the property is the owner or authorized to do so.
  • Ask what company provides professional cleaning services to the property and contact them or anyone else that services the property
  • Make sure you receive a rental agreement or contract specifying all the important terms of the agreement. Check dates, cancellation policy, fees, deposits,insurance, everything! Its your money and your vacation. Don’t play.
  • Use a credit card. Most cards have built-in protections for scams. There is no protection if you send cash or money transfer. And for the record, if the agency or person asks you to do a money transfer that’s a tip off to a scam.  You can also ask to place a deposit with the balance do upon check in.

Securing your devices

We love our devices so if you take one, or more, with you you need to install some form of anti- theft protection. For Android devices Lookout has a security app that works for Apple as well. And Kaspersky labs offers an anti-theft for Android. My best advice is to treat your devices like money. Don’t let it out of your sight! You can find more information at the Kaspersky blog on protecting your devices. Or read my book “Securing Your Digital World.

Write all your numbers down on paper and keep them in a safe place. There is no guarantee you will have internet access or that something won’t happen to your phone or tablet. Write emergency numbers down somewhere just in case. For example, a number of a close friend or relative in case of emergency, hotel number, flight reservation number, any number you may need. Don’t use hotel or public WiFi. Listen, hotels and resorts are hot targets for hackers and cyber thieves. Don’t believe me? Read this.

Finally, diversify your money. Don’t load up on cash. Keep a reasonable amount of cash with you. Have more than one credit card or debit card. And keep them separately. Whatever you are not using keep in the hotel room safe. If you lose one you can cancel it and go to the back up. Keep your passport in the safe as well unless you think you will need it. A good idea is to get a passport card with your passport. Now keep in mind that a passport card has limited use but should be enough in an emergency.

Now you know

Cyber Security for Black Children, Its Time for the Talk

canstockphoto7024756Parents, cyber security for black children, its time for the talk. We take child raising seriously. We have to. The world is a more dangerous place for our children than others. And having a black child online means you have even more things to worry about. Cyber security for black children is vital. You teach them about everything else that can harm them and safety and security online is just as important.

Does your child have a Facebook page?  Probably so. But did you know there are at least five social media sites that teens like  more than Facebook? They are Tumblr, Kik, Snapchat, Vine and Pheed. There are probably a lot more but those are the ones getting the most publicity right now.

Does your child have a cell or smartphone? Again, the answer is probably yes. Now for the bad news. You probably don’t know half the things a smartphone can do and your teenager is walking around with it. Cyber  security for children and teens is more vital now than ever. Its time to have the talk.

The first thing you need to do before your teen gets a smartphone is teach them what it is capable of. This includes broadcasting location data and tracking who they call and how long they talk. A smartphone can record text messages and send them to someone else. Tell them that smartphones can steal any picture they take, take pictures and even record their conversations without them knowing it. The apps on their smartphone is capable of stealing their contact lists and user names and passwords if they go on the Internet with it. You need to know and your teen needs to know that a smartphone is a spy and snitch. Don’t believe me? Check this video out.

A good tool to use on your iPad and iPhone is called the Disconnect Kids app. This app captures all traffic leaving your iPad and blocks any contact with a list of known mobile tracking companies. It works just as well on iPhones. For teens its a good idea to have an app that does this. As parent you need to understand the setting and apps on your child’s phone and make sure they are properly configured for their safety. And institute a policy of no apps unless you approve. Then enforce it. Nuff said!

What do you know about sexting? Much like when your were young teens nowadays keep secrets from their parents. Sexting is when teens engage in sexually explicit chat, texts or image sharing online. They think its all fun but when those pictures get  out “in the wild” as they say online, you got big trouble. Recently two teenage boys in McLean, Va. were operating a online file sharing operation that exchanged nude images of girls at their high school. The images were of teenage girls who willingly, yes willingly, allowed themselves to be photographed naked. Now those images are all over the Internet. Children are committing suicide or killing each other as a result of things that happen online. Are you awake yet?

Did you know that gangs have a strong presence on the Internet? Yes, street gangs have Facebook pages, post violent videos to YouTube, use Twitter, threaten other gangs, brag about crimes including murder and even recruit members all through the Internet. Is your child seeing these things? Do you know? As a parent, a black parent, you better get into your child’s online life before its too late.

You have to have the  talk with your child or teenager about what they do online. There is no software that can do that for you, sorry. You have to tell them that once it goes online it stays online. So a nude picture, a ugly profane post, name calling, bullying, whatever it is, never goes away. And let them know that colleges and employers do social media background checks to see what they have been doing. So that picture of them smoking weed and drinking Hennessy at a party might show up. Don’t laugh, it happens.

As a black parent you need to take the time to educate your children from the first time they sit in front of a computer. The first thing you need to teach them is privacy online and how to protect themselves.

Your child should never, ever use their real name or age online. Make it game and create a fake name, address and birthday for them. And test them on it. Does your child need a password for a website? The first thing you need to do is thoroughly research the website they are visiting. Know the answer to these questions; why does my child need a password? Is the website age appropriate for my child? Is the website product oriented? What information is the website asking from my child? Does the website use cookies? Is your child “friending” others online? Who are they? And finally, does the website have an endorsement from some organization. Research them too.  Listen, pedophiles love children’s and teen websites. You can find a pedophile on every social media website on the web.They are there in the chatrooms and they chat with children all the time. Don’t let your child be the next victim. And not all predators are sexual. Some are luring teens into revealing personal information, applying for credit cards, or who knows what else.

Once you decide that your child can use a password you need to teach them how to create a password. I have in the past recommended the use of pass phrases. For adults and children a pass phrase is a small task to create and remember. But you can also use Diceware. This is a simple way to create pass phrases using small dice. This too can be made into a game to teach your child how to create secure passwords. Remember what I said before, if they can use a computer then they are ready to learn these things. But if you are really a diligent parent you can create a password and not tell them. That way they can’t access the website without you being there.

Of course you need to use software that will help to keep the data hounds from tracking them online.  I suggest using Ghostery. This software works with your browser to keep your child from being tracked online. That means that marketers or even pedophiles can’t locate them in cyberspace. Another good tool to make use of is DuckDuckgo. This is a web search engine similar to Google or Bing that allows your child to search online without the search being recorded on a server for use later, like shooting ads at them. This is not fun and games online. There is a are lot of things happening and you need to be aware and alert to them.

So, black parents, its time to have the talk with your teens and children; the cyber security talk.

 

PCMag Names Bitdefender Best Free Anti-Virus Tools

Box Shot Bitdefender Antivirus 2014 775If someone offers you something for free that could protect you from the evils of the Internet why would you turn it down? You wouldn’t. This past April PCMag.com  released the results of  testing done on free anti-virus tools and you need to pay close attention. Coming in number one was the Bitdefender free anti-virus to0l.

In tests against other free anti-virus software Bitdefender came out smoking with five stars in all five categories. The categories included detection, cleaning, protection, false positives and performance. According to PCMag.com Bitdefender “scored super high in just about every test.”

Bitdefender was tested against the following anti-virus tools; Avast!, AVG, Avira, Comodo, Emsisoft,Fortinet,Microsoft, Norman, Panda, Qihoo/360 and Sophos. Only Bitdefender scored five stars in all five categories.

But not everyone is so high on Bitdefender. According to Techradar.com Bitdefender only came in fifth in its tests. But they still sing its praises saying “its one of the best around.”

Freebies on About.com said that Bitdefender was  “…on par with any of the arguably better-known free antivirus programs in my list.” The site also said that Bitdefender was  “..one of the better of the best free antivirus programs.” Yet this site only rated BitDefender as sixth in its rankings.

Breaking It Down

Black people sometimes assume that something free is cheap or has strings attached.  I’m telling you when it comes to anti-virus something is better than nothing. But if you don’t have to scrape by with just any old thing why should you? Bitdefender will save your ass from a disaster. You need anti-virus software on every device you own, desktop, laptop, tablet and phone. Are you listening?

I read numerous articles about free anti-virus software so you won’t have to. Less tech, more knowledge, that’s what I do. Let me tell what I learned? I learned that I have been wrong about Microsoft Security Home Essentials and the free online Safety Scan. They are not the best by a long shot so just keep that in mind. I would say that using the Microsoft anti-virus and scanning tools are the equivalent to buying the cheapest car on the lot. You got transportation. That’s about it! I also learned that Bitdefender, compared to other anti-virus software, was less intrusive and simpler to use. You don’t need to fool around with installation, settings and remote administration or any of the stuff that become too technical too quick.  As a matter of fact, Bitdefender will remove any other old anti-virus software for you. Remember, less tech, more knowledge.

After studying all the information available I came to the conclusion I better switch to the free Bitdefender. Yes it was free. Again, that’s not a bad thing at all.  I really like its capabilities and the fact that it can not only detect viruses and malware but clean them from your computer as well. What more do you want?

I seriously implore black people to pay attention to these things. As much as I sound the alarm about the bad things on the Internet I also try to point out the good things too. Bitdefender is good. Now you know.

ALERT! UPDATE: Microsoft Internet Explorer Bug Found How to protect yourself ALERT!

Internet-Explorer61 MAY 2014 – Since the news broke about the Microsoft Internet Explorer bug various websites and news services have published ways to protect yourself. My first recommendation is that you immediately switch to another web browser. If you don’t have another browser on your computer go to Google.com or Firefox.com to download one or both of those browsers. Both are free. The Department of  Homeland Security has recommended you do this and stay with an alternative browser until Microsoft issues a patch to correct the issue. Another suggestion, if you are using Windows XP you need to update your operating system. XP is no longer supported by Microsoft and no security patches will be issued for that OS. Here are a few of the recommendations from other sites.

From ABCNews.com; Bill Carey, Vice President of marketing at Siber Systems suggests,

Update Your Software

Make sure you’re current on your software updates so any security loopholes are closed. People using the 12-year-old Windows XP operating system are especially vulnerable since Microsoft announced earlier this month it would no long provide technical assistance and automatic updates to protect users’ PCs. Consider upgrading your operating system.

Close Your Browser

When you’re done with using a website, log off and close your browser. This will help prevent others from gaining access to your account.

Control Your E-Mail

Have a disposable e-mail address. Only give your actual e-mail address out to who people who need it. Carey said this will help you avoid mass spam and keep your inbox clean.

Have A Strong Password

Carey advises using a “keystroke” method for making passwords and creating a “keyboard mapping system.” One key to the left and one up would make the password “tinmen” change to “47gh2g.”

Disable E-Mail Photos

Disable pictures on your email and read it in plain text. The sender will not be able to identify if you have opened the e-mail.

Other sources:

Mashable.com

CNET.com

PCWorld.com

ORIGINAL POST : A report by FireEye indicates that a serious bug in the Microsoft Internet Explorer could allow your computer to be taken over by hackers. Researchers have discovered that hackers have exploited the bug and created a new type of attack.

How does it work? Hackers have set up a website that installs malware when you visit it; commonly known as a drive by download. (See terminology) If you visit the website while using the Internet Explorer browser malware downloads into your computer and gives a stranger total control.  Your computer may become a bot or part of a botnet  and you would never know it.  That means a hacker has total control of your computer and can access your files, steal passwords and spy on you. If you are at work then the hacker has access to everything you have access to do. How serious is this? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended that people ditch Internet Explorer until there’s a patch.

But  that is not the only problem. This bug is everywhere. A lot of computers use Windows including your bank’s ATM and point of sales systems in stores everywhere. This bug is dangerous because it affects every version of the web browser from IE6 through IE11. That’s more than half of the browsers in use right now, according to the analysis website NetMarketShare. People still using Windows XP are especially vulnerable since Microsoft no longer supports that OS and does not issue security patches for it.

Microsoft issued a security bulletin stating, “On completion of this investigation, Microsoft will take the appropriate action to protect our customers.”

This attack relies on a few of Internet Explorer’s extra features. So you will need to disable them until Microsoft issues a patch.  FireEye advises users to disable the Adobe Flash plugin. Microsoft engineers also suggest running your browser in the “Enhanced Protect Mode.” However experts say that will likely ruin your online experience. So the next logical move would be to use an alternate browser such as Google Chrome, Firefox or Apple Safari. But you need more knowledge than just switching browsers . Try the excellent article from Time.com  to protect yourself.

Breaking It Down

Here is why you should always have an alternative browser on your computer. Nearly black person I know uses Internet Explorer, except me. Its the default browser on so many computers that its almost impossible to avoid.  As matter of fact I’ll bet not many black people know of any other browser by name. Now is the time to correct that.  I use Google Chrome and I am very happy with it.

These bugs are ubiquitous. There is not a piece of software made that a hacker will not discover some way to crack into and use for their own purposes. This bug is serious because every computer in the world use Microsoft software. Almost every ATM uses Windows XP and very few banks have switched over to something else even though Microsoft says they’re on their own with it.  I suggest you call your bank and ask them what they plan to do about this. It is your money you know. But when was the last time the Department of Homeland Security urged you to dump a browser? I don’t remember ever. So now you know you how serious this is.

FBI Cracks Down Creepware Hackers

ID-100186945The FBI and police all over the world launched a crackdown on hackers using the malware known as Blackshades. It’s also known as creepware describing the people who use it to spy on victims by hijacking their computers, especially their webcams. According to CNN more that half a million people all over the world have been victimized.

The FBI and police in 19 countries arrested more than 90 people and carried out 300 searches to fight back against a serious and growing problem.  The two year operation was coordinated so suspects didn’t have time to destroy evidence. Among those arrested was Swedish hacker  Alex Yucel who is said to be the co-creator of Blackshades. Yucel was apprehended in Moldova.

Blackshare is a remote administration tool or RAT. Meaning it can operate infected computers from anywhere in the world. It sells for as little as $40. It is used to hijack computers remotely and turn on computer webcams, access hard drives and capture keystrokes to steal passwords without the victim ever knowing it. The real danger of the malware is its ease of use.  It was marketed in hacker circles as off-the-shelf,easy-to-use software. According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, “For just $40, the BlackShades RAT enabled anyone anywhere in the world to instantly become a dangerous cyber criminal, able to steal your property and invade your privacy.”

The crackdown did not go unnoticed in the hacker community. According to police once the crackdown began hacker message boards lit up with activity as they realized that arrests were being made.

One of the most famous victims of Blackshades was Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. Wolf’s computer was hacked and nude images of her taken with0ut her knowledge. The creep then emailed her the images. He threatened to release them on the Internet if she did not comply with his wishes for more sexually explicit images including a Skype sex show. “I felt completely violated,” Wolf said in an interview. “I felt scared because I didn’t know if this person was a physical threat. My whole sense of security and trust was gone.”

The creep who was threatening her turned out to be a former classmate, Jared Abrahams. Abrahams had installed the Blackshades malware on Wolf’s laptop. In March, the 20-year-old computer science student was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to extortion and unauthorized access of a computer.

Blackshades, like most malware,  finds it way into computers through user failure to protect themselves. Users don’t use updated anti-virus software.  Many computer users click on links in email messages and  social media sites such as Facebook. This causes a near instant download of the malware and the victims don’t even know it has happened.

Breaking It Down

Yeah black folks it can happen to you. You don’t have to do anything. It might be your kids or a friend who uses your computer that downloads the malware. It doesn’t matter how you get it just know that it may be there. I wrote about it before; Treat your Internet Connection Like Your Home 1,2&3. I am a strong advocate of deleting any email with a link or attachment I am not expecting. That’s how malware gets inside your computer. If I get an email with links or attachments I call the person who sent it and ask; a) Did they send it? b) What is it? and c) Where did they get it from?  Black people love to send prayers and images of kittens or puppies or some pro African-American news as a link or attachment. Please don’t fall for that and don’t pass it on to anyone. The least that could happen is your email address ends up on a Spam list.

Another thing you need to understand is that this stuff is extremely easy to use. People who download this hacker software and begin using it are known as script kiddies. That’s a common name for amateur and novice hackers. So if you think it takes a pro to do this you’d be wrong.

This malware takes control of your computer and can take still or video images of you or your family members. To prevent this use a small piece of tape or Post-It note to cover your webcam when you are not using it.  Another thing I suggest is that you do a scan of your computer to detect malware. You can get a free scan from Microsoft, TrendMicro or Kaspersky Labs.

 

 

Smart TV Maybe Watching You

That big screen smart TV mounted on your living room wall could be watching you. According to software specialist NCG Group some smart televisions with built in microphones could be spying on their owners.

What a lot of owners of smart TVs don’t understand is that their television is actually a computer. Some smart televisions can connect to the Internet, send and receive email, browse the web and even answer the phone or Skype conversations. It’s simply not your father’s television. These televisions, with the introduction of malware, can become surveillance devices. They can actually listen to and record your conversations. This capability was demonstrated at a recent Infosec Conference in London.

“Malicious apps could be downloaded from the manufacturer’s app store. The TV does have the option for auto-updating, so releasing a legitimate app, then releasing a malicious update, is another attack vector,” said  Felix Ingram, principal consultant at NCC Group. Many television manufacturers have released the source code for the television software and this makes it easier for hackers to insert malware.

And it is happening to smart TVs from almost every manufacturer. Electronics giant LG recently admitted that one of its models has been transmitting information while the user was watchng television without the owner’s knowledge or consent.  A Samsung smart TV was hacked causing  Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to write Samsung demanding they improve the security of their product.

Breaking It Down

Black people, like all Americans love their big fancy televisions. Almost as much as we love our cars. But the bottom line is that we are becoming more and more vulnerable to our technology and those who may use it against us. How would you like it of you discovered that someone was watching you watch television…in your underwear!

This is really creepy. We discovered long ago that hackers could turn our computer webcams on. The same thing is now happening to our compu-tvs. Awareness is vital when we learn of these issues and black people need to make sure we preserve our privacy.  How do we do this?

First you can cover the camera on your smart TV. Use a piece of tape to or Post-It note to cover the lens. You can also disconnect the network from your television when you are not using it for Internet access. But you won’t be able to access Netflix or other web streaming services.

But I think I need to point out something else. Since smart TVs can access the Internet some people use them to do things like shop or bank. You know where this is going right? A hacker smart enough to hack into your television is also smart enough to steal your banking user name and password. They could also steal credit card information if you shop online using your smart TV. Another thing you need to understand is that many new techno gadgets are entering the market place that allow you to control your home thermostat, lock and unlock the doors to your home, control appliances and much more.But many of these devices have no security  leaving wide open to hackers. By the way this includes your home security system and your car.

Its vital that black people understand these vulnerabilities in their cyber world. Now you know.

Countable.us Website Can Empower Black Voters

MLK voteIn a democracy you have a right to speak and be heard. A new website has begun to funnel the voice of the voter directly to the halls of Congress.

Internet start-up Countable.us is just the latest website focusing on delivering the desires of the voter directly to their elected representatives. Launched just this week Countable.com gives voters a quick and understandable explanation of  the bills their representatives in Washington are currently considering. The website lets the voter instantly dispatch emails to their representatives expressing how they would like them to vote.

The creators of Countable.com, Peter Arzhintar and Bart Myers, decided they wanted to improve the political process using the Internet. The result was a website that explained to the voter the basic issues of the bill in plain English. 

In order to use the Countable website you need a Facebook account. Countable uses your Facebook profile to determine your name, location, and your national representatives. The website then displays a series of bills your representatives are expected to vote on. Each one has a short summary of the bill’s pros and cons. The voter can click “yea” or “nay” to automatically send an e-mail to their representatives, or simply click “skip” it.  If the voter desires more details they can click on the bill’s name to pull up more details, including voting activity, costs, links to media coverage, and the full text of the bill.

Countable also tracks how your representatives voted on bills compared to the way you wanted them to vote. This produces a “compatibility ranking” for each one. But since every websites need money to survive a lot of the data is used for advertising. Countable is currently working on a Apple app for smartphones.

One of the things Countable is aware of is the complicated nature of bills. The company is challenged with providing enough information for voters to develop informed opinions without overwhelming them. “Fortunately, most pieces of legislation can be reasonably straight forward,” Myers says. “It’s when you get into complicated legislation with different political motivations associated with it that things get hard.”

Bills moving through the halls of Congress become more byzantine and shadowy as they pass from committee to committee. Politicians are famous for adding amendments to bills that increase spending or add regulations that are completely unrelated to the original bill. They are called earmarks. Countable.com will post updates to bills that have such riders. “Being able to call that out is actually a benefit in what we do,” says Myers.

But is this form of communication really as powerful as it seems? Anyone can email their elected representative and there is no method for verifying if the person is actually a constituent.  Countable  has no way of verifying this information either. This fact leaves the information open to unsavory influences. For example a lobbyist, advocacy group or political action committee could somehow skew the information an elected official may receive. But according to  Myers most representatives are looking for ways to gather data from their constituents. “Most of them would still prefer to get feedback by phone,” he says. “But millennials can barely call their parents, let alone their representatives.”

Other websites using the power of the Internet to stir up democracy include the Madison Project a product of the OpenGov Foundation. The Madison Project is an open source software platform for writing, publishing, and annotating legislation.   The OpenGov Foundation was founded by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca).

“For people who are not inside of government, it really sucks standing on the outside looking inside seeing the government working on something you know about and not having a way to contribute,” says Seamus Kraft, who co-founded OpenGov and served on Issa’s staff. “If you’re an elected official, you don’t have an efficient way to listen to constituents. Those are the two technical things we’re trying to solve.”

The first bill created with Madison was the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the OPEN Act) in 2011, a response to a Senate bill called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and a House bill called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). So far no bill created using the Madison Project has become law.

Breaking It Down

Black people have been killed for trying to vote. In our country, our democracy, black people have fallen short of the dreams of Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders when it comes to using the power of the vote.  Let’s change that.  I have signed up for Countable.com and I encourage you to do the same. But Countable.com is not perfect. I didn’t expect it to be. It’s explanations of bills is too short for my tastes and over simplifies the issues. They can do better. But it does offer a channel for black people to speak up to the elected representatives in Washington and stop being so easily ignored.

Using Countable.com will allow black voters to be heard. Is Countable fool proof? No. But if enough black people use it, trust me they will notice. Its the duty of black people to speak to power. A lot black people seem to live for the latest news about Beyonce, or whats happening on the television program Scandal. They spend hours a day on Facebook. But many of these same black people have no clue as to what is happening in the highest circles of power. These elected officials control how you live!

I am going to say this and I won’t back down; as a black person if you know more about Kanye West than you do about what is happening in Congress then you can consider yourself a tool of the white power structure. Its no secret that some people enjoy the fact that black people have such a poor voter turnout. They count on it! They count on our chosen ignorance. We only hurt ourselves.

We as black people need to participate in the democracy we have here. We need to stand up and speak out everyday and not just when someone offends us. This what the Internet and websites like Countable can help us do.  Do you feel me?

Game Changer; Florida Court Rules On Settlement for Data Loss

avmed-individual

In a precedent setting case a Florida Court has approved a settlement against Avmed  for a data loss.The decision was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th District of Florida.

AvMed, a health insurer, had two laptop c0mputers stolen in 2009 that contained the names and personal health information of as many as 1.2 million of its customers. But only 460,000 will receive payments. The information was not encrypted. None of the consumer/plaintiffs suffered identity theft or any other direct losses. However they blamed AvMed for breach of contract and fiduciary duty, negligence and unjust enrichment. 

Courts do not normally side with the consumer in data breach cases. Most rulings have been decided on the fact that, although information was lost, no direct harm came to the consumer. At least none that could be proven and the court would not rule on future damages.  This was the first case where the plaintiffs won without evidence of actual loss.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida originally dismissed the case.  The case was appealed and the plaintiffs won that appeal. AvMed’s second attempt at a dismissal failed forcing the $3 million settlement. Other requirement of the settlement are;

  • Mandatory security awareness and training programs for all company employees;
  • Mandatory training on appropriate laptop use and security for all company employees whose employment responsibilities include accessing information stored on company laptop computers;
  • Upgrading of all company laptop computers with additional security mechanisms, including GPS tracking technology;
  • New password protocols and full disk encryption technology on all company desktops and laptops so that electronic data stored on such devices would be encrypted at rest;
  • Physical security upgrades at company facilities and offices to further safeguard workstations from theft;
  • Review and revision of written policies and procedures to enhance information security.

This ruling is a clear precedent for future data breach cases. The decision sends the message that customers’ expect companies to protect their information and invest in data security.

Breaking It Down!

How many black people have lost data? Do you shop at Target?  How about Sally Beauty Supply? Then you have. Here is where the game changes people. If you get a letter in the mail saying someone you do business with has suffered a data breach and your information was compromised; you have a case. Get a lawyer! This decision means that precedent has been set and believe me a lot of companies will take notice. In the past they would offer you credit monitoring. Let me tell you, credit monitoring is nothing! Now a court has agreed with the consumer that data breaches have become intolerable. The key to this decision, and why it is so important, is no evidence of loss was present. In the past you had to prove some damage. This settlement has changed that.

The Florida Court of appeals has changed the legal landscape and the lawyers will be all over the next major data breach. Or any data breach. Companies that suffer data breaches will begin bleed cash and they know it. OK, $3 million isn’t much but no no company wants to be next to face a court after this decision. The courts have to consider the legal precedent set here. You, as a consumer, need to get in on the next class action lawsuit that involves a data breach. It’s money that these corporations understand and if they have to pay you when they lose data then maybe things will change. Go get ’em!