Five Ways Identities Are Stolen Online

Friday, October 22, 2010

Robert Siciliano

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Cybercrime has become a trillion dollar issue. In a recent survey, hundreds of companies around the world estimated that they had lost a combined $4.6 billion in intellectual property as a result of data breaches, and spent approximately $600 million repairing the damage. Based on these numbers, McAfee projects that companies lost more than a trillion dollars in the last year.

There are several motives for this type of theft, but the most prevalent is to steal identities. Your identity is your most valuable asset, but most consumers lack the time, knowledge, and resources to protect their identities. Five of the most common ways identities are stolen online are through phishing scams, P2P file sharing, social networking, malicious websites, and malicious attachments.

Phishing: Phishing scams still work. Despite consumer and employee awareness, a carefully crafted email that appears to have been sent by fellow employee or trusted entity is probably the most effective spear phish. “Whaling,” or targeting a CEO or other high level executive with a phishing email can be even more successful. As they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Never click links in emails, even if they appear to come from a bank or other trustworthy source. Instead, type the address in manually or use a bookmark.

P2P File Sharing: Peer-to-peer file sharing is a fantastic way to leak company and client data to the world. Obama’s helicopter plans, security details, and notes on Congressional depositions have all been leaked on government-controlled computers via P2P. You should set administrative privileges to prevent the installation of P2P software.

Social Networking: One of the easiest ways into a company’s networks is through social media. Social networking websites have grown too big, too fast, and can’t keep up with security. Criminals know exactly how to take advantage of this, so create policies and procedures that outline appropriate use, and beware of social networking scams.

Malicious Websites: Websites designed to attack your computer and infect it with viruses number in the millions. Hacked websites, along with out-of-date operating systems and vulnerable browsers, put your identity at risk. Use antivirus software to protect your PC and your data.

Malicious Attachments: PDFs used to be safe, but Adobe is the same boat today that Microsoft found itself in years ago: hack central. Adobe’s software or files are used on almost every PC and across all operating systems, and criminal hackers love it. Every browser requires software to view PDFs and many websites either link to PDFs or incorporate Adobe Flash to play video or for aesthetic reasons. According to an estimate from McAfee, in the first quarter of this year, 28% of all exploit-carrying malware leveraged an Adobe Reader vulnerability.

Identity theft can happen to anyone. McAfee Identity Protection offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. McAfee Identity Protection puts victims first, providing live access to fraud resolution agents who work with victims to help restore identities. For additional tips, please visit http://www.counteridentitytheft.com.

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss P2P file sharing on Fox News. (Disclosures)

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Paul Gillin IBM's Jack Danahy points out that the growth of social networking services has made the risks of phishing even worse. Interesting perspective. http://bit.ly/d73W8X
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