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It's a Black Hat Christmas - Are Hackers in Your Stocking?

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By Hector Cisneros

The holidays are here! It’s almost Christmas. Your shopping for your loved ones, scoping out all the deals when you get an email from your favorite store for an incredible deal. All you have to do is log in and claim your special to win Christmas. What could be easier? Or is it? Every year at this time cybercriminals ramp up and sharpen their social engineering hacker techniques to capture your usernames and passwords. They want to gain access to your digital devices and secure the claim to your financial data. This year, it's time to shop on a smarter level. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will show you more than a dozen ways to protect your data and shopping experience to make this holiday special in a positive way. Don’t let the black hat hackers get in your Christmas stocking.

In Christmases of the past, we have written about how cyber thieves and hacking increases during the holidays. This is because so many shoppers are too busy hunting for a deal and not paying attention to their cyber security. First, we wrote about “The Byte Before Christmas” where we talked about the growing trend of cyber hacking during the holidays along with the bad behavior that goes with Black Friday shopping. Then we wrote an article called “The Grinch Goes Digital,” which covers 12 ways online scammers can steal from you this Christmas. Since then, we have written many other articles about the ever-escalating threat of hackers black hat trickery and how worldwide hacking is becoming a threat to our very way of life.

In 2016 there were dozens of major hacks that compromised the online information of hundreds of millions of Americans. Friend Finder was hacked, and information of 412 million users were compromised. I know what you’re thinking, they deserved it.  But what about Anthem Health insurance being hacked which compromised 80 million accounts, or MySpace 164 million accounts being compromised! The list goes on and on.  Don’t believe me, Read The Biggest Data Breaches in 2016 to see an incredible list of major breaches. Big celebrities were not exempt from these hacks, check out, “Hacking public figures” by Rose Leadem. Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Jack Dorsey were just a few of the big names to get hacked in 2016.  Want more.
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All hackers and hacks are criminal acts. Anonymous, China, Russia, Terrorists and other hacker organization are all at war with governments, big business, and the world's established financial institutions. At the same time, cybercriminals are fleecing average citizens of their hard-earned Christmas money and retirement savings. They attack to cause chaos and anarchy in our somewhat orderly world. They have even attacked our infrastructure like our electrical grid. However, sometimes these criminal acts lead to useful information being leaked to the world when government officials are not behaving in the public's best interest (like when they are lying to us).

Hacking Political candidates – This year hacking and hackers played a significant role in our presidential election. What would have happened if hackers had not hacked and leaked the DNC’s email account and exposed how they had rigged the Democratic nomination win? What would have happened if we did not find out about Hillary’s secret server, that was hacked and the contents of those emails about Bengasi and other issue? What if the WikiLeaks had not received the hacked emails about the Clinton foundation and other DNC operative shenanigans?

More and more cybercriminals are using fake accounts and social trickery to gain access
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and control of your digital devices, including personal, and financial data. I personally had one of my Facebook accounts copied where a criminal set up as a fake account. He tried to capture followers trust and gain access to their financial information. The cyber criminals started out by asking for a contribution to worthy causes, which in turn would require people forking over their credit card info. Luckily I discovered it early on and got the fake account pulled down.   

You are not Immune! And don’t think you are immune because you’re a small fry user. Cybercriminals don’t know or care about targeting only big fish. In fact, you are the most vulnerable because you are the easiest to attack. The average user does not use 12 digit passwords, or have layered defenses with several antivirus/malware products or have a browser that protects their privacy and pre-warns of known malicious websites? Few use password encryption or encrypted email or data. Most don’t update their computers’ anti-malware or browsers on a regular basis.

Well, if you don’t want to become a victim of cybercrime, you need to be proactive and
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educate yourself and then plug the cyber security holes in your digital life. We have written extensively in the past about the exponential growth of cyber security threats in America and the world. Now the problem is so epidemic that whole countries have been brought to their knees when their electric grids were brought down by cyberattacks. And if these were not enough, the advent and adoption of IoT (The Internet of Things) have opened a new gap in the security of your home, where hackers can turn your IoT devices into zombie bots to bring down or slow the usefulness of the internet. Again, don’t believe me, read; “
Hacked home devices caused massive Internet outage” by Eli Blumenthal and Elizabeth Weise, in USA TODAY. 

Here are some of our articles I highly recommend. It's my short list;
  1. Getting faked out on Facebook
  2. The Cybercrime Clock is Ticking
  3. Big Brother Built In
  4. Are Trolls taking over the Internet
The most important article you must read is The State of Internet Privacy & Security in America Today. It contains a huge notes section and links to more than two dozen articles that will help educate you on how to protect yourself in this Cyberwar we are on engaged in.

How to Protect Yourself during the holidays
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  • Set up a layered defense, including a secure router with firewall, multiple antimalware products, and browsers that maximize privacy. Browsers like Tor, Comodo Dragon, and Firefox are much more private than Chrome. Think about using a VPN connection. Adding a VPN connection will make it very hard for others to track your internet usage. Don’t forget to use password protection software as an added layer of defense.
  • If you insist on using Chrome, which many users love, setup Google’s two-step authentication system. This will give you an additional strong layer of protection. This is a must use practice if you travel overseas.
  • Keep your security system up to date. This includes your OS, anti-malware products, routers, browsers, applications and password protection software.
  • Replace your passwords on all applications and system at least once a year. Make it at least 12 digits long and include letters, numbers and at least one special character. If you have Windows 10, use the photo or facial recognition system to up the stakes of anti-hacker security.
  • Minimize the use of IoT and artificial intelligence. This includes Alexa, Google Home and Cortana, Siri, and Xfinity Home. These devices keep your private information on tap in order to function. Many smart appliances also have tie-ins to these devices. They are all vulnerable at this time. If a cybercriminal breaches any of your defense’s, these will be compromised first.
  • Minimize the use of Google Search, use Duck Duck Go or other search engines that do not track your usage. The more you can be tracked online by Google, the more your digital footprints can also be tracked by cyber criminals.
  • Get and use a throwaway email address whenever possible (the one’s you get from Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, etc.). Don’t forget to change your passwords annually on these systems as well.
  • Use data encryption on all your digital devices whenever possible. Use encryption to transmit data, and email. Encrypt data in your “dropboxes” and cloud drives and make sure you have adequate cloud backup that provides multiple revisions of your data so that you can roll back a mistake or ransomware breach.
  • Use one-time use credit cards to limit your financial exposure. This can also include
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    non- refillable credit cards. If you're not doing this, at least use PayPal to add an additional layer of protection to your purchases.
  • Pay attention to the URL of any website you visit. Only use https addresses when browsing on the internet. These addresses are more likely to be legit, which is why Google gives them a higher ranking factor.
  • When traveling to visit family during the holidays (especially overseas) think about using a prepaid smartphone without installing any of your private info on it. Prepaid phones are cheap and can be refilled and reused anytime you travel.
  • Buy a Secure Smartphone - If you want the best security when traveling (or when using a mobile device), buy a secure smartphone like the Blackphone from Silent Circle or a smartphone that includes a fingerprint access. Also, make sure that full encryption is always turned on in case you ever lose it.
  • Tighten up the security in all of your social sites. Many now have security tools that allow you to control access and communications with other social users. Never provide any financial information over the internet. Your bank will never contact you saying they accidently over or under deposited money or your dead relatives left you money in Africa.
  • Make sure you keep a watchful eye on your elderly parents' computer usage.
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    Setup strong security on any of their systems. Create strong backup systems and create bank account security settings that will warn you (as well as them) when passwords change, large amounts of money are moved, or any other risky transaction takes place.
  • Last but not least, refrain from risky behavior like visiting websites that are known to be associated with malware and hacker apps. These include porn sites, sites offering “too good to be true deals,” Free movie sites, black hat sites and sites on the dark web! The bottom line is there is no protection for stupid behavior.

Don’t become a victim this holiday season. Take the time to learn and understand this grave threat to our modern life. Do the research necessary to protect yourself and your family's assets. This is one of the gravest threats to our generation and our modern way of life. Click on the links in this article to read and learn as much as you can. The alternative is risking your personal and business data, financial viability and your future. Our government has been asleep at the wheel and has not come close to dealing with this looming cybersecurity threat. Roll up your sleeves and do your part. Be proactive, and you will not become a victim. 

That’s my opinion; I look forward to hearing yours.

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In this article, I have discussed how every year, cybercriminals take advantage of the holiday season and create countless victims in the United States. This article provides many examples and dozens of links to help you learn how to improve your privacy and security. Implementing these tips will keep cybercriminals at bay.

If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, contact us at 904-410-2091. We will provide a free marketing analysis to help you get better results. If you found this article useful, please share it with friends, family, and co-workers. You can find other articles on our blog by typing in “hacker, hacking or cyber security” in the search box at the top of this blog. If you have a useful comment or opinion related to this article, leave it in the comment section of this blog.  Also, don’t forget to plus us, on Google+.

Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.”

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