Jim Kouri
Protecting yourself from cyber crime
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By Jim Kouri
October 4, 2009

The cyber threat confronting the United States is rapidly increasing as the number of actors with the tools and abilities to use computers against the United States or its interests is rising, according to a report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.

The country's vulnerability is escalating as the US economy and critical infrastructures become increasingly reliant on interdependent computer networks and the World Wide Web. Large scale computer attacks on US critical infrastructure and economy would have potentially devastating results.

Cyber threats fall into two distinct categories: threats affecting national security that emerged with Internet technology, such as cyber terrorism, foreign-based computer intrusions and cyber theft of sensitive data; and traditional criminal activity facilitated by computers and the Internet, such as theft of intellectual property, online sexual exploitation of children, and Internet fraud.

In both categories, cyber attacks, intrusions, illicit file sharing, and illegal use of cyber tools are the basic instruments used by perpetrators. Domestic and foreign terrorist organizations, foreign intelligence actors, and criminal enterprises are increasingly using encryption technology to secure their communications and to exercise command and control over operations and people without fear of surveillance. The Federal Bureau of Investigation must be able to identify and penetrate the command and control elements of these organizations and actors.

Recognizing the international aspects and national economic implications of cyber threats, the FBI created a Cyber Division at the headquarters level to manage and direct this developing program. The rapid evolution of computer technology, coupled with the creative techniques used by foreign intelligence actors, terrorists, and criminals, requires investigators and computer security professionals to have highly specialized computer-based skills. The FBI Cyber Program uses a centralized, coordinated strategy to support crucial counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigations whenever aggressive technical investigative assistance is required. The Cyber Program also targets major criminal violators with a cyber nexus.

The FBI must increase its capability to identify and neutralize enterprises and individuals who illegally access computer systems, spread malicious code, or support terrorist or state-sponsored computer operations. The Bureau must proactively investigate counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigative cyber related threats having the highest probability of threatening national security. To do so requires the FBI to constantly upgrade its skills and technology to meet the evolving threat.

The National Cyber Security Alliance has some tips to help protect you and your family:

  • Always know who you are dealing with online. Do not open unsolicited e-mails or go to Web sites that look "off." One Defense Department official suggested checking the domain identifier. "Some shady sites use the name of actual sites, but [with a] different identifier — a dot-com rather than a dot.gov," the official said.

  • Keep Web browsers and operating systems up to date.

  • Back up important files to CDs, thumb drives or external hard drives at least once a month.

  • Protect your children online. The media are full of stories about predators who haunt the Internet. In addition, some sites are inappropriate for children to view. Officials recommend using parental controls.

  • Use security software tools as your first line of defense. Many companies specialize in cyber security software, officials said, and people should buy one and keep it up to date. One hopeful development in the research world, they added, is that researchers writing new software often do that with security in mind.

  • Use strong passwords or strong authentication technology to help protect personal information. Even after much emphasis over the years on security, the most common password still is "password." Most officials recommend passwords with combinations of numbers, capital and lowercase letters and special characters. Other verification procedures include fingerprints and retina scans, though they can be expensive. And though it should go without saying, don't write down your password and put it on a note next to your computer.

Learn what to do if something goes wrong. Even if you are careful, your computer could be compromised. What now? One answer is to call the company that makes your security software, or the place you bought the computer. Or you can call one of the myriad groups that troubleshoot computers. Keep the phone numbers for your security software's manufacturer and the place where you bought your computer somewhere safe. They don't do any good sitting on your C drive if something goes wrong.

© Jim Kouri

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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