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Defending your tablet, computer, smart watch and phone against hackers isn’t exactly mainstream travel stuff, but is absolutely necessary in these days of growing cybercrime, an expert told Outback Travel Australia.
Allan Whiting had his road transport industry reporting hat on, when attending the 2023 Trucking Australia23 conference that was held on the Sunshine Coast in March.
A presentation aimed at trucking companies proved just as valid for those of us relying on internet communications when on the road.
Dr Dennis Desmond spoke about the risks facing individuals and businesses, quoting statistics that revealed 162 major-business cybersecurity attacks reported in Australia, in the first six months of 2022. Included were 51 attempts to extract a ransom.
Of course, those stats don’t include the probable thousands of unreported attacks on personal devices.
Dr Dennis Desmond has many years of US military and security services background and did his PhD in Cryptolaundering intervention.
With the benefits of the interconnected world come inevitable hazards, because there’s always someone looking for a way to make a fast and illegal buck. In the case of cybersecurity the threats come from individual hackers, organised crime and state-sponsored groups, Dr Desmond said.
As an example of the duplicitous nature of the internet, Dr Desmond showed photos and credentials of his assistant, Sara H. She was his right hand woman and very good at client relations and research into the ‘dark net’.
Later in his presentation he revealed that ‘Sara H’ was, in fact, a 2017 creation, not a person. Dark net criminals were happy to deal with her, where they would be put off by the bio of Dr Desmond.
The dark net is the cyberspace where illegal trades take place, exchanging cyber currencies for products and information. It’s an on-line black market that specialises in the exchange of illegally acquired goods and services, including identity data.
Data is worth money, which is why products like Google or Facebook collect everything: they’re not providing their services entirely free of charge. Also, he pointed out: the ‘cloud’ is just another server, in another location.
In the Q&A session Dr Desmond was asked how individuals and companies could protect themselves from hackers. One way, he suggested, was to restrict the amount of information people give to companies and agencies.
What is the safest type of password, for example? He suggested using a phrase or short sentence, not a world, such as: “I love my wife, Rita, £, 2022”. That is a much more difficult password to break than a single word, Dr Desmond said.
Also, he suggested, that it’s much better to use a store gift card, such as those issued by Woolies and Coles, rather than credit cards, to pay for groceries.
He also suggested that people should never give out private mobile phone numbers to anyone except friends and family, because phone numbers can be easily tracked. Dr Desmond suggested using a ‘burner’ phone for transactions with people you don’t know and with companies and agencies.
(For those who don’t know, a burner is a no-contract, prepaid mobile phone, usually an ultra-cheap handset you buy in a store – with cash, or a gift card, for privacy.)
He also suggested keeping different email accounts for different purposes. Dr Desmond has around 20 different email accounts.
“Everything in your on-line profile should be ‘fake’ – like ‘Sara’,” he said. “Because the more people know about you the easier it is for them to target your accounts.
“Putting your house or your business in a trust, under a fictitious name, that’s better security.”
Eye-opening stuff, eh?