Irving — Senior citizens are often targeted by online scammers and hackers. Eric Yancy information security administrator, information technology for the city of Irving, hosted an informational lecture at the Heritage Senior Center to explain and help prevent this phenomenon.
“I’m not looking to scare you,” Yancy said. “I want to express reality and give you tools and information, so you can make intelligent decisions on how you approach the internet, email and social media.”
According to Yancy, emails are the largest opportunity for scams.
“Email and phishing scams are so incredibly complex because these people are geniuses, and it’s pretty much like an organized crime,” Yancy said. “Hackers send emails to a million people and hope that 10 or even 50 will click, and that’s how they install malware,”
Malware is a software that hackers use to disrupt or damage computer systems and can often be combatted with the use of antivirus systems.
“If you’re antivirus is up to date, you’re 90 percent there,” Yancy said. “Your antivirus is a software program that you load. You can do it on your cell phone, your desktop or laptops. When it’s loaded, it sits there like a bouncer at a ballroom. He will not let people in that shouldn’t be there unless you think they should.”
However, Yancy warned some antiviruses that look legitimate could be a hacker in disguise.
One way to protect your email from these messages in the first place is to update and strengthen your password to passphrase. A passphrase is longer than a password, contains spaces between words and are considerably less easy to crack compared to passwords.
“If you have a password called ‘password,’ the probability of you getting breached is 100 percent,” Yancy said. “If you have a passphrase that says ‘I love my kids!’ then you created a 28 character password that nobody can crack.
“The point is, you can be your own worst enemy. Make a phrase, the longer the better. If you have something that resonates for you personally, use it.”
Passphrases may protect you, but two-factor identification will ensure it is you attempting to log into your accounts.
“It’s putting in two separate things, who you are, what you know or what you have,” Yancy said. “You log into your dashboard and enter your user ID and password, and they can send you a text confirming that you’re attempting to log in.”
Yancy added that many banks offer this feature, and it is vital to use.
“Two-factor identification is available on almost every single bank website and emails, so why don’t we use it? It’s free,” Yancy said. “Do a search on your bank website, and type in two-factor authentication or go down to your local branch and ask for it.”
Hacking can also come in the form of free, public Wi-Fi.
“It’s possible if you’re connecting from your device to their Wi-Fi, somebody in the middle can see all of your stuff,” Yancy said. “When something is free, you’re the client. There’s something they are getting out of it. It may be just more people attending their events because they have free Wi-Fi. Whatever the case may be leery of Wi-Fi.”
This can be prevented by using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to protect your connection when using public Wi-Fi.
Antiviruses will only work if they are up-to-date. Hackers are most likely to attack whenever software systems are expired even if it has been less than a year.
“It’s kind of a cat and mouse game,” Yancy said. “Hackers find vulnerability, because they’re just searching and massively collecting [information].”
Yancy added that contrary to the perception that Google or Apple are known for scams, most scams occur on websites that offer videos or music for free. Scams also come from not reading the URL correctly.
“Here’s a problem you have that is unique for our demographic,” Yancy said. “I have gotten to a point in my life that I cannot read my cell phone without glasses. There is a website www.go01e.com. It looks like Google, but it’s not. You need look at the URLs, make sure there’s a little lock on the left hand side that’s secure, and realize they want you to click on the wrong site.”
Yancy also discussed ransomware, which is a type of software hackers install onto your device to block access from your systems until you pay them.
“Is the data on your computer worth paying money for? The answer is no,” Yancy said.
Yancy suggested contacting authorities immediately when under a ransomware attack, especially if you pay the ransom.
“If you don’t contact the authorities within 72 hours of the attack, the probability that you will get your money back goes significantly down,” Yancy said.
Though these protective factors might help prevent scams, nothing is 100 percent effective.
“It’s kind of like car insurance, you drive safely, wear a seat belt, have insurance and you can still get into an accident,” Yancy said. “My job for the city is not to eliminate risk but to reduce the risk.”