Six rising threats from cybercriminals

Watch out for these cyberattacks that can turn smartphones into texting botnets, shut off electricity, jam GPS signals and more

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Another type of attack Morehouse describes targets companies as well as individuals. The spoofer might set up a Facebook page pretending to be the official company page for, say, a retailer like office supply giant Staples. To make it seem credible, the spoofer might claim that the page is a formal method to contact the company or register complaints.

The page might offer free (but fake) coupons to entice people to join, and it soon goes viral as people share it with their network of friends. Once hundreds or thousands of users have joined the page, says Morehouse, the owner tricks them into giving out personal information, perhaps by signing up to receive additional coupons or special offers.

This is a double attack: Consumers are damaged because their personal data is compromised, and the company is damaged because its customers associate the fake Facebook page with the real company -- and decide not to buy from that company anymore.

As with text-message attacks, individuals' best defense against spoofing attacks is to use common sense, Joffe says -- criminals usually do not do a good job of impersonating a person or company, and they tend to send links and phishing scams to con you. They might try to mimic a friend but rarely manage to accurately convey their personality. In some cases, the attacks are traceable through e-mail headers or IP addresses, and most attacks are too general and untargeted to be believable to anyone who's careful.

Other precautions might seem obvious but are often overlooked. If someone says he's a friend of a friend or co-worker, make sure you confirm his identity with your common connection. And it's a good idea to lock down your privacy settings at social networking sites so that your contact info, posts, photos and more aren't visible to everyone. In Facebook, for example, select Account --> Privacy Settings --> Custom and click the "Customize settings" link at the bottom to gain control over exactly what you want to share with everyone, friends of friends, friends only or no one.

For companies, it's a little trickier. Joffe says there is no way to prevent a criminal from setting up a fake Facebook page initially, but companies can use monitoring tools such as Social Mention to see how the company name is being used online. If an unauthorized page turns up, companies can ask the social network to remove the fake listing.

4. Cyberstalking

Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have changed the way we communicate in our personal and work lives, many would say for the better. Yet these useful portals also provide conduits that others can use to make our lives miserable.

Kathleen Baty
Workplace-related cyberstalking might involve another employee or someone trying to steal company information, says personal safety consultant Kathleen Baty.

A relatively new concept variously called cyberstalking, cyberharassment or cyberbullying involves an individual or a group making repeated personal attacks online, such as posting negative comments on every tweet you make or posting crude altered photos of you on a social network. The perpetrators may hide behind online aliases to hide their identities. By law, cyberbullying becomes a federal crime if a stalker makes any life-threatening comments.

Most of us have heard of a handful of well-publicized cases of cyberbullying among teens, but it's also on the rise for adults who connect to social networks from their place of employment, according to Kathleen Baty, a personal safety consultant and CEO of SafetyChick Enterprises. These workplace-related attacks might involve another employee, or someone trying to steal company information.

"Cyberstalking in the workplace has become more and more common and is tough to define because there are so many different forms to threaten or harass in this digital world and so many different motives behind the behavior. It can be anything from a personal/romantic relationship gone bad, to a co-worker/business conflict, to a competitor trying to wreak havoc on a company," says Baty.

To keep cyberstalkers off company networks, businesses should implement all the usual corporate security tools, such as firewalls and encryption, Baty says. Additionally, companies should institute a social media policy that outlines clear guidelines for what kinds of information employees should and should not post or discuss on public sites.

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