Cyber-gangstas' paradise

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Cyber-criminals are snooping, hacking and phishing more than ever, and even Western students are getting lured in.

Symantec’s latest Internet Security Threat Report, released Sept. 17, detailed various online threats, such as the increasing number of trusted webpages " including corporate and government sites " being routinely hacked by cyber-criminals. Phishing, the online method for obtaining sensitive data, was also noted as a growing issue.

The report stated Canada is now an international hotbed of malicious internet activity ranked second only to Israel.

For instance, “bot networks” " computers under the control of cyber-criminals " have a lifespan of 19 days in Canada, the longest in the world.

Michael Katchabaw, a computer science professor, explained your computer could be compromised without your knowledge.

“It’s basically taking 19 days to get it cleaned up or see something is wrong with your computer,” Katchabaw said.

“If you leave [your computer] on 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a broadband connection, you are ripe for the picking ... it’s sending out spam while you’re at work. Do you know what your computer is doing when you’re not home?”

Katchabaw suggested using a firewall and up-to-date virus software, as well as turning off computers when not in use.

Elgin Austen, director of Campus Community Police Service, recalled a recent example of internet fraud at Western.

Over an unspecified period of time, cyber-criminals communicated with several undisclosed students online until a rapport was established, at which point the criminals asked the students to cash a $500 cheque on their behalf.

The students were each informed their online acquaintance was travelling abroad and needed the money mailed to them. In return, the students could keep $50 of the money.

The cheque each student received was fraudulent and would subsequently bounce if cashed, with most of the money already mailed thousands of miles away.

Austen said students need to be careful online due to fraud schemes such as this, which often occur through social networking sites like Facebook.

Anabel Quan-Haase, an information and media studies professor noted an additional danger to Facebook.

“An important consideration is identity theft, something that we often don’t see as a real threat,” Quan-Haase said.

“With some basic info, someone could try to access your bank account or credit card ... for example, a Facebook profile with your name, age, and information about yourself.”

To combat this threat, Emily de Boer, a fourth-year kinesiology student, has all her privacy settings active on Facebook and is careful where she gives her credit card information online.

Despite the risks, students should not be paranoid about surfing the web.

“The internet is a great tool ... but like any tool you have to use it responsibly,” Katchabaw said.

Share this article on:

Facebook | DiggDigg |

Copyright © 2008 The Gazette