Introduction to common (and not so common) Cyber threats – Part 2 – Open Source Information and How it Affects You.

In part 2 of our series, Introduction to some common (and not so common) Cyber threats, we will explore how different government agencies and hackers go about gathering information from various social networks, and how you can take steps to make sure that your stuff isn’t that easy to find.

 

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Open Source information and how it affects you.

 

What Happens:

 In my last article I explained a few of the techniques people use to get  through all the security measures that you have in place for your wired/ wireless network, by taking a more “low-tech” route, the art of “casual conversation” or the less clean “dumpster-dive”. The people who use these methods already know what they want from you, and know how they can get it. Again, that doesn’t mean avoid all strangers or avoid making new friends, it just means be aware of what you let be known and to who.

 This can also apply to what you put into your online profiles on social network sites such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Imager, Linked In, or WhatsApp, to name a few. The first thing you need think about is just how many people are going to be seeing what you are putting out there and remember, The #1 rule of the Internet, and really the only hard and fast rule, is that once it has been posted, it is there forever! It will not go away just because you want it to or even if you delete the picture or thread, it is still “out there” on the Interwebs, someplace. This includes those pictures of you in Panama City during Spring Break 2008 doing body shots off of the toothless, transvestite hooker or the nasty gram you left for your cheating ex, telling her you have AIDS just to be mean, any of which can and will be used against you.

Another way bad guy’s or the government agencies can find this information is to wait outside of your house, and see who walks out or in. Once they have what you look like, they do a search on the address and from there they can find your name, and once they have that it gets even easier for them. Keep in mind that everything they are doing is well within in the law since they aren’t actually approaching you, going through your trash, etc. since everything they find with this method is “open source” or publicly available.

 

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Open Source Information:

Open Source information is any information that a bad guy or government agency can find by simply scrolling down a page, or doing a Google search. It is information that you may not even know is out there in many cases. Unless you look for yourself, you won’t know what information is already out there about you.

 Open source information has the potential to be the most damaging once it is all gathered and all the pieces are put together. There are people inside the NSA, CIA, FBI and other government agencies whose sole responsibility is to put together dossiers based on “open source” information alone, information that they can find with a Google search. Granted they have had extensive training in this area so they know what they are doing and how to do it quickly, but that doesn’t mean some hacker kid hasn’t learned the same techniques in his mom’s basement after a case or five of Red Bull’s and some Twizzlers.

The job of these analysts (and hackers) is to find information that you post online that you don’t think will have any real impact on your daily life. Once it is all put together though, this information will give them (the government) or a bad guy a more complete picture of who you are so that they can pursue other methods to compromise your information safety.

 

Joe Neighbor and his Family:

Imagine if you will, Joe Neighbor. He is an upstanding citizen, married to a loving wife, has three wonderful children, and just a really nice guy. He just bought a home in your nice, clean, and safe community. With all of that said, even Joe Neighbor still has his secrets, just like you, that he only tells his closest of friends. Joe has a Facebook account that he does not use very often, but boy, his kids use the hell out of Facebook, and post a lot of pictures; of him, their mom, themselves, their hamster, Sheldon, and the family house, both inside and out. Finally, Joe gets some time off, so he can take that family vacation to Fiji! Joe has a wonderful life.

Now Joe has taken great pains to make sure that only family and a neighbor he trusts know that he and his family will be out-of-town for a couple of weeks, just so that they can check up on the house, collect the paper, water the lawn and do a little pet sitting too.

Before the family set out there were a couple of  break ins reported near his neighborhood, but Joe isn’t worried, because he has family and friends he trusts looking out for him and his house, plus he won’t be gone long. When they get to the airport, the Neighbor family takes a nice picture in front of ticket counter that Joe didn’t intend on posting until they were back in the safety and comfort of their own home because he knows that isn’t a great idea, but his kids had different plans. They took innocent enough pictures of the airport, the plane ride and even the beaches, and as soon as they had an Internet connection they posted it all to their Facebook accounts showing all of their jealous friends what a great time they were having in Fiji. And they did have a great time, until they got home and Joe saw the inside of his house, someone had broken into their house while they were on their vacation and stolen everything including their hamster, Sheldon.

 

Behind the Scenes:

 What Joe didn’t know was that he had a stalker of sorts casing out him and his house, he seemed friendly and innocent enough when Joe talked to him on the street a few weeks before Joe was leaving for Fiji. Nice enough he even invited him over to a family barbecue. Joe didn’t tell him that he was going on vacation because he didn’t know him very well, if at all really. What Joe didn’t know about his new “Friend” Mr. Smith, is that from the beginning the conversations they had Mr. Smith had gotten the things he needed, his name, a basic layout of his house from being at the barbecue, and a good idea of  what Joe had in the way of “stuff”. When watching Joes’ online profile didn’t get him anymore of the information he wanted, he switched to watching Joe’s wife and kid’s online profiles, and boy did he get the information he needed to screw Joe over good! From the pictures that his kids had posted, to comments, and other things they posted, he learned they were going away on a nice two-week vacation. He already knew the basic layout of Joe’s house from being there for the barbecue and he learned even more from Joe’s kids posting pictures of even more of the interior of the house as they went around and did silly kid things.

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Safeguards:

 In order to prevent what happened to Joe Neighbor from happening to you, make a habit of regularly monitoring what is being posted online, not only by you, but by your family members as well. Hackers, scammers, and government agencies can look at all of this publicly available information and put together a pretty good picture of your life, they can find out your family’s habits, interests, and hobbies among other things.

 Your biggest threat online comes not from someone on the outside, but from those on the inside, YOU are your biggest enemy online. You have to be able to recognize this fact so you can properly guard against the threats that are out there.

One of the basic ways to do this is to make sure what you are posting does not include information that you even think could compromise you or your family. One way to do this is to think like someone who is out to do something harmful with whatever it is you are posting. Try to think about how the information could be used against you, and go from there. Let’s say something you want to post advertises your being out of the house for an extended period, think about how posting the fact that you are going to be in Omaha for 10 day’s visiting your Dear Aunt Edna and how someone could use that information. Maybe you should wait until you get back from Omaha before you say something about it. Make sure someone you trust knows where you are going and what you are doing if something were to happen while you were away, but don’t put it on Facebook for the whole world to see! You need to constantly think about how what you (and your family members) post can affect you, and adjust your posts accordingly.

You should conduct a regular check ups on your information, by that I mean do a quick Google search of yourself (and family members), and if you can find even one bit of information that could even remotely be used against you in some way, adjust accordingly by either altering it in such a way as to remove things so as not harm you, or even remove the questionable post(s) or picture(s), but remember that one hard and fast rule, WHAT IS ON THE INTERWEBS, IS ON THE INTERWEBS FOREVER!

Think about and be aware of what you post. A lot of times, problems can be averted beforehand by simply paying attention to detail, and reading and then re-reading what you are planning to post and reviewing the pictures you post. You also need to be well aware of what your family posts, both about you and themselves.

 Everything that has been mentioned here (and in future articles) is not to scare you away from people or using social media, it is merely to help you recognize ways your private information can become compromised and how to protect yourself and your family against it. Put simply this article is all about using common sense while online and teaching your family to do so as well.

In part 3 of our series, Introduction to common (and not so common) Cyber threats, we’ll be sharing more ways that your personal information can be compromised and ways to prevent it, just remember, use common sense in everything you post and you will not only Survive, but Thrive!

I look forward to seeing your comments and as always, Train to Survive!

Joshua

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