‘They’re going after people as young as seven years old’

Business | Tech

We may have a lot more to worry about than our Facebook privacy settings. Victoria Police Staff Sergeant Darren Laur says there are a variety of safety and security threats found online and that we need to learn how to protect ourselves from them.

In a presentation called “Managing Your Online Identity” for UVic’s Alumni Week on Feb. 4, the sergeant gave a talk with his son Brandon on how people can safeguard their reputation, personal information and identity on the Internet.

“The most important part of online security is [critically] thinking online,” says the younger Laur, a UVic psychology student.

Some very public political scandals in the past few years are a clear indication that some individuals have not done this (think 2012’s Petraeus scandal, which caused CIA director David Petraeus to resign).

Anyone who uses social media has a “digital dossier” representing who they are online, says the elder Laur. Everything on the Internet stays on the Internet. “That digital dossier is becoming very searchable . . . It only takes one incident to cause a reputation to explode,” he says of the social, professional, academic and legal consequences.

Reputations aside, he says young adults especially don’t understand why it’s important to protect personal information on social networks like Facebook.

“When I talk to young adults, I hear a lot of [them] say, ‘Why would anybody want to steal my identity?  I’m worth nothing. I don’t have a bank account. I don’t have a job.’ No, but you all have what the criminal calls ‘virgin credit,’ ” he says.

Virgin credit describes, according to the elder Laur, the non-existent credit history of young people. He says criminals apply for credit cards using these people’s information. It’s not until the young individuals apply for student loans one day, for example, that they find out their personal credit has been compromised.

“Your personal information is the currency of the underground economy right now,” he warns. “They’re going after people as young as seven years old.”

Online activity can also threaten physical safety and cause psychological harm — a fact that recently rose to the spotlight when B.C. cyberbullying victim Amanda Todd committed suicide last year.

The elder Laur says that, over the past two years, he has saved 37 young cyberbullying victims from committing suicide through what he calls “social engineering,” which involves a non-technical kind of online intrusion (called “creeping,” for those familiar with the colloquial term) that relies heavily on human interaction through social media, texting and other means. This sort of social engineering is often used by criminals; the elder Laur says he uses it for good.

The presentation also covered malware, such as computer viruses, spyware, Trojan horses and other malicious software, that invades your computer. By infecting your computer, cyber criminals can take control of your computer and track every keyboard stroke you make.

“They’re generally run by you accepting it,” says the younger Laur of malware distributed through unsafe links and emails.

The Laurs suggest covering up your webcam when you are not using it because criminals can use Remote Access Trojans to spy on you through it and then use the captured footage as blackmail.

It seems to be a more common practice for PC users to download antivirus software, but the elder Laur says Mac users need to take precautions, too. “It costs a bit of money, but you get the protection,” he says.

This is not limited to computers; smartphones can be infected, particularly if you have an Android phone, he says. He suggests everyone, but especially Android users, should download protection software from bullguard.com or mylookout.com.

Some smartphone apps also can’t be trusted. The younger Laur says not to download any app that has been out for less than six months. Six months should be enough time for developers to fix any security breaches.