Cyber Security Part IV - Consumer Protection

This is the 4th part of the cyber security series I started, and I want to focus on the consumer a little more.  Cyber attacks have been well documented in their ability to damage large organisations, government websites and critical infrastructure.  However, there is still a large volume of non-technical home and mobile users who are ending up as the victim of on line attacks and identity theft.

"The use of more portable devices, including smart phones, has increased user convenience, but also opened up a can of worms when it comes to security.  Smartphones are not really phones.  They're computers, that happen to make calls"

Everything's Online

Well, not quite everything, but most things.  You can certainly do all you shopping on line.  Banking?  Yep.  Store your music, photo's and apps?  Yep.  Watch movies and TV?  Yep.  Interact with other people?  Yep.  So, practical, every day aspects can generally be automated and placed on line.  The main consumers of on line products and services, is obviously the 'digital native'.  The generation Y'er's and below, who were literally born, not with a silver spoon, but a smartphone hanging out of their mouth.  

Laptops can obviously do everything a desktop could do, but faster and cheaper.  With the added option of being portable and using wireless networking.  A laptop itself, would be pretty useless without an internet connection.  In reality, not many people would use a laptop without the wifi or ethernet LAN connection disabled.

Vulnerabilities - Learning and Spotting

The use of more portable devices, including smart phones, has increased user convenience, but also opened up a can of worms when it comes to security.  Smartphones are not really phones.  They're computers, that happen to make calls.  The phone itself will contain considerable personal and potentially work related data.  Contacts, emails, attachments, internet browsing history, cookies, bookmarks, saved and cached passwords and so on.

However, the main vulnerability with respect to consumers, is often not the technology they use, but how they use it.  If you went to a new town or city and someone totally unknown, came up to you and tried to sell you a second hand car, you would probably walk away.  You don't know the person's history or credibility and if you wanted to buy a car, you would want to see it, get a review, test drive it and so on.  Your basic inner-suspicions would take hold and you would walk away.

Those same instincts should be applied to on line browsing, but many users are often blinded by the technology and unfamiliar intermediate steps involved with buying products and services on line.  Phishing is popular, as is social engineering - we've all heard the stories of the prince of Nigeria requiring urgent funds to allow safe passage for their daughter who happens to be in your local town.

Protection Steps

Basic instincts count for a lot. If you receive an email from someone unknown, don't expect it to contain winning lottery information, or a link to photo's from your past. How could it? If an on line deal seems to cheap to be true, it probably is. Use sites that you are familiar with. Reviews of products and services are now available for nearly everything and are available free.

From a tech, perspective, treat your on line tooling the same as you would your physical devices, like cars and cookers. Make sure they're up to date and well serviced. If your laptop, operating system or browser is running an old version, get it updated with patches and service packs. Anti-virus, anti-malware and firewall tools should be installed as a minimum default and kept up to date too.

Don't use public wifi for things like on line banking, or if you absolutely have to, put in place a local SSH tunnel to add some additional anti-sniffing protection. SSL is an absolute must for any website that requires authentication, including remote email viewing via IMAP or SMTP.

From a smart phone perspective, make sure the OS is up to date, use a 6 digit password to access it (as opposed to a PIN), encrypt the local phone contents and set up insurances and remote-wipe features in case of theft.

As more and more of our daily lives will involve on line transactions of some sort, the unfamiliarity aspect of the tooling should fade, allowing our instincts to perform some protection against social engineering, leaving technology to start the fight against APT's.