Mark Pribish

Are apps and social media putting your privacy at risk?

By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

An app a minute - from hailing a car ride to adjusting the temperature of our home from 3,000 miles away - that's the world we live in. But with our addiction to social media, we open ourselves up to privacy risks.

When was the last time you read the terms and conditions or adjusted the privacy settings of your smartphone apps or social-media accounts?

This was the question I asked 40 business and community leaders while attending an event earlier this week. As I expected, not one person raised a hand, and I'm assuming the same is true for most of you.

Apps and social media offer convenience, entertainment and networking opportunities. But according to the 2015 Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, "Cybercriminals are leveraging social networks and apps to do their dirty work."

Symatec reported that "70 percent of social media scams were manually shared. These scams spread rapidly and are lucrative for cybercriminals because people are more likely to click something posted by a friend."

"Mobile was also ripe for attack, as many people only associate cyberthreats with their PCs and neglect even basic security precautions on their smartphones," according to the Symatec report.

In addition, Symantec found that 17 percent of all Android apps (nearly 1 million in total) were malware in disguise and that "grayware apps, which aren't malicious by design but do annoying and inadvertently harmful things like track user behavior," accounted for 36 percent of all mobile apps.

Consumers need to know that apps and social media can track your search engine history, purchasing habits, geographical location, and even look into your files and contact list - all without your knowledge and sometimes without your permission.

For example, when you install an app, most apps will require you to "accept" their terms and conditions - but did you read and really understand the type of information that is being collected and the kind of privacy threats you now are exposed to?

How bad can these "privacy threats" be? Just imagine an app vendor or third-party marketer collecting and selling your smartphone's unique device ID, phone's location, phone number, your age, gender, likes, dislikes, search-engine habits, emails, usernames and more to data brokers. And then imagine how these data brokers collect, analyze and package your most sensitive personal information in a unique profile and sell it over and over again - without your knowledge.

Based on the above, here are my five tips to help you minimize your privacy risks:

  • Limit and/or eliminate sharing your personal information online.
  • Increase your privacy awareness by reviewing and adjusting your privacy settings.
  • Be aware that some apps reset your privacy settings during major upgrades.
  • Learn more on how your personal information is used and for what purposes.
  • Consider using "privacy assistant software" to help keep your privacy preferences current.

The use of apps and social media are the new targets for cybercriminals, and you need to limit the information you share.


To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Alert -- The Virus That Holds Your Computer for Ransom

Pay to Decode Your Own Files? It's Ransomware

The ransomware scam is back and more vicious than ever, according to a new FBI report. Ransomware is a virus that freezes your computer, holding it ransom until you pay to unlock it. Victims are reporting losing up to $10,000 in a new version of this scam that encrypts your files.

How the Scam Works:

You click on an infected advertisement, link or email attachment. Suddenly, a pop up appears. The screen tells you that all the files on your computer have been encrypted, making them useless unless you have a key to decode them.

This new version of ransomware is appropriately named CryptoWall. Of course, decoding your files doesn't come free. Different versions charge anywhere from $200 to $10,000.

Most versions of this scam demand payment in Bitcoin. The online currency is decentralized and anonymous, making it a new favorite method of payment for scammers. Like pre-paid debit cards and wire transfers, if you pay with Bitcoin, it's like paying in cash.

To remove the virus without paying the scammers, try running a scan on your computer to identify and delete the malicious files. If you are unable to remove the malware, you may need to wipe your machine's hard drive and reinstall files and software.

Protect Yourself from a Ransomware Scam:

Avoid ransomware scams by not downloading one. Here are some suggestions:

  • Always use antivirus software and a firewall. Protect your computer (and your cell phone) by using antivirus software and a firewall from a reputable company.
  • Update your software regularly. The regular reminders to update your browsers and other software are annoying, but they are for a good reason. These updates protect against the constantly evolving viruses and system vulnerabilities.
  • Enable popup blockers. Popups are regularly used by scammers to spread malware. Prevent them from appearing in the first place by adjusting your browser settings.
  • Be skeptical. Don't click on emails or attachments you don't recognize, and avoid suspicious websites.
  • Always back up the content on your computer. If you back up your files, ransomware scams will have limited impact. If you are targeted, you can simply have your system wiped clean and reload your files.

For More Information

See the full alert from the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

To find out more about other scams, check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam).

Courtesy of the Better Business Bureau - for more information visit http://www.bbb.org/phoenix/news-events/

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.