While I was locked out of this site due to some malicious hacking, I had breakfast with a friend who is an expert on cyber security. His admonition: Everyone will be hacked, so get ready for it.
Remember the maxim “knowledge is power?” I’d like to amend that to say “information is capital.” The bits and bytes that cyberthieves are ripping off are worth billions on the black market.
There are sites where Social Security numbers and dates of birth are peddled. Credit card information is purloined. Medical data is stolen for vital identification numbers. This black market is a decentralized, 24/7 enterprise that respects no national boundaries, can’t be policed by armies and is growing by the minute.
The latest cyberscam that caught my eye goes one step further than theft: It holds your computer files for ransom. It’s like some brigand from a Third-World Country gains access to your hard drive, locks it up and demands money to unlock it. Normally, I’d say this was some kind of hoax, except that the FBI and U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have issued a warning on this “Cryptolocker” scam:
* Cryptolocker is spread mostly through email and “drive-by” downloads.
* The email might look like a routine message from a legitimate company, like a tracking notice from a shipping company.
* If you click on the hyperlink in the email, Cryptolocker encrypts everything on your hard drive and in your shared folders.
* When the job is done, you get a “ransom note” demanding payment via Bitcoin or some other anonymous payment method.
* The criminals behind this malware say they’ll give you the encryption key if you pay, but they’re hardly trustworthy. And there’s no other way to unlock your files.
What can you do to avoid this crime?
* Regularly back up your files
* Don’t download anything you haven’t identified as something that’s legitimate.
* Don’t click on unknown links.
* Make sure your security software updates regularly.
* Don’t give out personal information unless it’s on an encrypted website.
* Change your passwords on a regular basis.
I speak and write about investor protection, money management, health economics, ecology and social issues. My latest book is "Keynes's Way to Wealth," a revealing look inside the successful portfolios of the world's most famous economist. All told, I've written 13 books including The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome and iMoney: Profitable ETF Strategies for Every Investor and write a column for Reuters.com. I speak across the U.S. and my writing also appears in the New York Times, Morningstar.com and other national publications. This blog delves into financial and social deceptions.