Friday, July 31, 2015

Is your child addicted to technology?

I've heard more than once lately that there is scientific evidence supporting the assertion that sugar is as addictive as cocaine or heroine. This is a truism that is both borne of and funded by the food industry over the past four decades.

The sugar addiction is blatantly obvious based on rises in child obesity and type 2 diabetes in children, an illness formerly confined to adults.*

In a similar vein, our society has fallen prey to a new, growing addiction that contributes not only to the obesity problem in children but to insomnia, inability to focus, reduction in motor skills, early exposure and addiction to porn, reduced social skills, inability to read and think linearly (such as reading a book cover-to-cover), online bullying (and other misdeeds), and poor performance in school.

Did you know that 92% of two-year-old children have an online record?

Ben Halpert, Internet safety advocate and founder of the 501c(3) organization Savvy Cyber Kids, has collected some statistics in this arena. Ben's recently aired 12-minute TED Talk, Technology Addiction and What you can do About It is a must-see for parents with infants, toddlers, elementary school children, tweens and teenagers alike.

In the video, Ben provides some shocking statistics and offers simple suggestions for parents to help stave off technology addiction—like establishing a family rule that forbids tech gadgets at the dinner table and in bed.

And parents, that goes for you, too!

*To find out more about sugar addiction, see the 90-minute movie "Fed Up."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What is ransomware?

Our various wares

First there was software and hardware; as people found ways to exploit each of those, a concept was developed called malware—malicious software—code that is intended to damage or disable computers. As digital technology advances, so do the criminal methodologies used to harness it. One clever example of that is ransomware.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware that holds your computer and its files hostage. Typically, when your computer is infected with ransomware, the PC is locked down so that you can no longer boot into the operating system (OS, i.e., Microsoft Windows), and all of your files are encrypted so that you can no longer access them until you gain access to the "key" that decrypts the files. A nefarious message is displayed on screen demanding you pay a ransom in order to get access to your computer and all of your programs, documents, photos, and other saved data.

Is the ransom for real? You betcha. If you don't pay the bad guys, you lose everything that is not already backed up in a secure location. A Massachusetts police station that fell victim to ransomware chose to pay the ransom in order to regain access to its files. See that story here. But, keep in mind that payment is no guarantee that you'll get your files back.

How do I prevent ransomware infection?

Ransomware is installed and activated just like any other malware. Frequently, it comes from clicking a link or opening an attachment in an unexpected or unwanted email (like a spam message), although ransomware can also come from surfing to untrusted web sites. The simplest way to avoid ransomware is this: Do not click links in emails, and do not open attachments to emails. 

Other tips that aid in prevention:
  • Keep your computer up to date with the latest patches, for the OS as well as your applications
  • Do not open attachments or click links in emails that are unexpected, unwanted, come from untrusted sources, or are in any way questionable or supicious
  • Do not click on ad links on web sites, even on sites that you trust
  • Use an anti-malware/anti-virus program on your PC, and keep it up-to-date
For more information, see Brian Krebs' article How to Avoid CryptoLocker Ransomware.

How do I counteract ransomware?

Back up your data on a regular basis. Maintain a full backup on separate media (like an external hard drive) that is not perpetually attached to your network. Keep in mind that any device or system attached to your network is susceptible to the same malware infection as your computer. If you update your backup weekly, then the most data you can lose in the event of infection is seven days' worth. 

If your computer is infected with ransomware, the best solution is to wipe the hard drive clean and do a full restore of your system image and files.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Is the content of your resume putting your identity at risk?

A co-worker provided my team with this advice: Don't provide your full street address and real email address on your resume. Hiding these two bits of information protects them from being one more nail in the identity theft coffin and reduces the risk of having your email address added to more spam lists.

This advice is especially recommended if you are posting your resume online. Be thoughtful about the personal information that you are including in that document before sharing it electronically. 

Regarding your residential address, future employers don't need to see that on your resume; hiring companies may be interested in knowing the city you live in, but street address (and zip code, I would argue), are not necessary. Your zip code is commonly used by payment systems to validate your credit card number. Save that information for when you are invited to fill out a job application.

As for your email address, when you are seeking employment you can create a temporary email address that you throw away later. Configure it to forward to your real email address. When your job hunt is completed, you can disable the temporary email address.

For more tips, such as why you don't need to include your graduation dates on your resume, see the Identity Theft Resource Center article: Your Resume and Identity Theft.