A college student has threatened a lawsuit for wrongful expulsion due to alleged academic fraud. The administration receives an urgent email from a law firm along with a formal complaint as an attached file. Several minutes after opening the attachment, the college's IT department makes an urgent call to administration. A ransomware outbreak just started, and they must immediately remove their computers from the network. As they investigate the email, IT discovers the law firm is fake and the email was a scam.
Scenarios like this happen all too often. “Scammers use emotion to get people to act quickly to solve or prevent a seemingly serious issue – medical emergencies, late payments on a critical service like internet or utilities, even ransom payments for team members traveling abroad,” shared Matt Cohee, a network security analyst with Brotherhood Mutual.
The technique is called social engineering, and the goal is simple – to get you to act before you have time to think. The result can be stolen funds, stolen information, or ransomware placed on your computer network, any of which can tie up your organization’s resources or even cripple your operations.
Scammers use many schemes when attempting to steal your data, but you can outsmart them by understanding their methods.
Phishing emails are one of the most common ways scammers try to get data or gain access to your network. They typically incorporate elements of surprise, scare tactics, or fear of imminent danger.
Spearphishing is a targeted phishing attack that uses personalization in the email to make it appear legitimate. Hackers may even use information from your college or university's website or social media accounts, or an administrator's social media account, to craft an email specific to your college.
Spoofing imitates an email address or website to make you think you’re interacting with someone you know and trust. Hackers typically change one letter and hope you won’t notice. An example email address could be: CFO@dtcollege.edu (real) and CFO@dtcollege.com (fake). Once they gain your trust, they can lead you to download malicious software, release funds, or disclose sensitive information.
Vishing and Smishing are another form of phishing. The scammer uses phone calls or text messages instead of emails.
Pretexting creates a story in order to gain your trust. The story, or pretext, uses trust to manipulate you into thinking the scammer is legitimate. For example, someone might impersonate a vendor you typically use to gain access to buildings or computer systems.
Scammers can be very sneaky, which makes it difficult to spot their tricks. Managing passwords and using two-factor authentication are just two ways you can outsmart their treachery.
Manage Your Passwords
Passwords help protect systems and data from unwanted access, but they can create a false sense of security. With so many separate accounts that require passwords, it’s common for people to use the same password across multiple systems and accounts.
“Hackers are constantly trying to steal your passwords. If they steal one, and you use it everywhere, they now have access to all the accounts that use the same password,” said Chris Harvey, chief information security officer with Brotherhood Mutual.
A simple remedy is to use a password manager. It comes as software and an app so you can use it across your computers and mobile devices. Password managers allow you to place all your accounts in a single, encrypted and password-protected vault. Once you link your accounts, the software creates new, unique passwords for each. You’ll only need to remember the single master password.
Cohee advises, “With passwords, the length is really the difference. Make sure it’s complex, and it could even be a sentence, which is even more secure.”
Two-factor authentication takes security to a new level. It requires users to have a password and an additional method of verification, such as a pin number, texted to a smartphone, before they can gain access to an account. This is a very effective way of securing your accounts.
“If an account offers two-factor authentication, use it,” encouraged Harvey.
This type of security places an additional step to gain access to accounts. This means that even if your password is stolen, hackers won’t be able to access your account because they won’t have access to the pin on your smartphone.
Whenever you receive an email, text message, or phone call that requests immediate action, especially a transfer of funds, take a minute to run through the following questions:
To add an additional layer of protection, check any hyperlink before clicking it by hovering your cursor over the link. “If it looks strange or contains misspellings, simply avoid clicking,” cautioned Cohee. “And if you get a text message asking you to call a phone number for a business, such as a bank, always do an online search and call the listed number so you know it’s legitimate.”
If you use the same password everywhere, hackers will use software to automatically search other accounts and attempt to break in with the stolen password, which is called password stuffing.
They can even get into your email account and send emails on your behalf, essentially using university email to attack other businesses or people.
While theft through email phishing scams may be covered under your college’s theft coverage, losses from many types of cyber threats are not. Should a breach occur, your college could have costs associated with required notifications, credit monitoring services, and data retrieval for litigation.
Brotherhood Mutual offers multiple coverage options* for cyber liability, as well as a partnership with a global leader in cyber response and remediation services. If a breach exposes personally identifiable information, remediation services help fulfill legal requirements to report the hack to those potentially affected. Kevin Rainear, senior claims adjuster, Brotherhood Mutual, advises to alert your insurance agent first if you have a cyber incident. “If there’s concern personal information stored on your systems has been compromised, the breach response services provided with Brotherhood Mutual’s cyber liability coverage may help your ministry investigate the breach and determine if there is a legal obligation to report to those who may be impacted,” said Rainear.
*Coverage descriptions are intended to help you better understand Brotherhood Mutual’s insurance programs. They do not provide insurance coverage of any kind, nor do they modify the terms of any Brotherhood Mutual policy. For complete insurance coverage details, please refer to actual policy documents. Coverage for actual claims will be based on applicable policy documents applied to the individual facts of an actual claim event. Some coverage may be provided on optional endorsements and may not be available in all states.
Posted September 2, 2021
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.
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