Privacy

PRIVACY – that’s a fairly important thing to most of us; no one likes the idea of someone knowing intimate details about us. No one likes the idea of a stranger knowing our names, where we live, our children’s names, what we eat for breakfast, what we brought our friends as wedding gifts, where we bank, what faith we subscribe to, or the contents of our conversations with loved ones. But if we have any sort of online presence, chances are those details are out there just waiting to be rounded up.

Both of my parents have in the last few months fallen victim to banking scams. Thankfully both cases were resolved quickly and the cyber criminals didn’t manage to get away with any of their cash permanently. But the techniques they employed struck me as being both completely brilliant, and downright cheeky!

In the case of my father, he received a genuine looking SMS from his current account provider suggesting there had been unusual activity on his account. The SMS appeared within the same ‘thread’ of messages as the genuine account updates, and suggested he logs into his account via a specific link to prevent account suspension. He then received a telephone call from ‘his account provider’ suggesting he log in as soon as possible and check the account. Being a financially conscious kind of chap he dutifully followed the link and logged in. All being well he ended the call and continued about his business until he received a second call – this time from his real bank whom informed him that he had been the victim of a scam. Horrified he closed the call and rang the bank back on the number printed on his card where the news was confirmed. To add insult to injury the scammers hadn’t made off with the entire contents of his current accounts and saving – they generously left him with £10 (not even enough to buy the diesel to get to the nearest bank).

Nationwide Building Society being the clever cookies that they are though, managed to track down and recover the funds within a week. Where did they find them? In an account in my sister’s name! That’s right, those sneaky little scammers had gleaned enough information to open an account in my sister’s name, then noticing my father makes regular payments to her made a payment to this new account with the usual reference UNI FUND.

Things could have been a lot worse, but Nationwide Building Society excelled themselves, alerting my father quickly and efficiently, freezing his accounts, and recovering the money in a timely manner – but many victims of scams such as these aren’t quite so lucky.

For me, the scary thing about all this wasn’t that my father was scammed, it’s how much they already knew about him, and about my sister.

Threats to our security from cyber criminals aren’t just financial either. With continuous Tweets and Facebook updates, almost anyone can track your habits; while the more competent criminal may even be able to track you using location based software.

Thanks to the News Of The World most of us are aware of phone tapping. Something that less of us are aware of though is the interception of emails and messages. We send all kinds of information digitally, whether it’s a WhatsApp message to a friend; an email to a business associate; a snapchat to a group of friends; or a skype call to a loved one, no one expects those communications to be seen by anyone but the intended recipient.

For businesses, the stakes are even higher. Corporate espionage is a real and ever present threat, and zero day attacks are becoming ever more frequent, meaning businesses are under greater and greater strain to keep both their own affairs, and the details of their customers private. Sony, and Talk-Talk are two big examples, but even hospitals aren’t safe it seems, as the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Centre was held to ransom while their entire network was scrambled until they paid up. Apples own ICloud has seen attacks too as a plethora of private photos belonging to celebrities have made their way into the public domain.

Some businesses are built on learning all about you though. Have you ever wondered how all those adds you see at the side of web pages seem so relevant? Well, they’re relevant because they know you! They know your every move – websites you visit learn everything from who you are, what your likes and dislikes are, what hobbies you have, where you’re from, and even where you like to shop. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it does provide relevant adds after all – but it’s not the kind of information everyone wants to share.

Yesterday I mentioned the legal dispute between Apple and the FBI, the reason for that is simple. While I think we all empathise with the FBI in their pursuit of terrorists, is it right to weaken the security we already rely on to do so? Apple (and a good portion of the industry in general) purpose that if one places a back door (a way to bypass) the security software built in to their devices, they would be opening the flood gates to malicious exploits. I tend to agree too!

It’s been known for some time in the tech world that there are devices available that can unlock IPhones such as the one at the centre of the case. Did the FBI? Undoubtedly! So why bother asking Apple to do it? To weaken encryption throughout the industry? Possibly, but we will probably never know – the FBI withdrew from the case before any verdict was given, and so, thankfully no legal precedent has been set. But it will probably come up again in the near future.

All of this can sound a bit scary, and we haven’t even broached the subject of the threats that are potentially already lurking in your PC or Mac yet. Fear not though, in my next blog I will be talking through ways and means of keeping your conversations, and your data private and anonymous, then taking a look at the cyber nasties you possibly already live with.