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Here are five steps to avoiding having your emails appear on WikiLeaks

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Never in American political history have hacked and stolen emails played such a central role in a presidential campaign. But hackers are likely to target you as well – though perhaps with smaller repercussions for the world as a whole.

Every one of October’s surprises, from the leaks of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s purported emails to those of the Democratic National Committee, was achieved using a surprisingly simple email deception technique called “spearphishing.” The same technique was used to attack Hillary Clinton’s private email server: Two spearphishing messages were found on it.

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Many people know that the term “spearphishing” typically describes emails trying to get someone to click on a link to, say, their online bank account – but actually sending them to a lookalike site where their login information can be stolen. Some others hide malicious software (or “malware”) within links or in attachments that when clicked give the attacker control of the system or even an entire corporate network.

But despite years of national efforts to promote cybersecurity, spearphishing remains fruitful: People are still the weakest links in cybersecurity defenses. There are, however, simple ways we can all step up to protect our own information – whether we’re central to presidential politics or regular people.

A massively complex problem

In general, people are fairly aware of the potential for cyberattacks. Some are even good at spotting them. In fact, both Podesta and Clinton were suspicious of the phishing emails they received. Before clicking, Podesta even asked his tech-support staff if a link was legitimate. Those experts should have known how to spot a phishing attack, but failed: They told him to click on the malicious link.

The problem is not lack of awareness or even knowledge, though some of us need more of that too. It’s actually one of complexity.

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Researchers think of computer users as working on an email while focused solely on a computer screen. But reality paints a different picture. Today, people use a variety of internet-connected gadgets and apps, with myriad prompts, feeds and notifications, all vying for their attention.

Estimates are that the average person checks his smartphone 80 to 100 times each day. This does not even include desktop and laptop computer screens, tablets or smartwatches. People routinely use all of those devices as well, checking, recording, reviewing and responding to requests in the office and on the go – walking, talking and even driving.

These interactions present a near-constant stream of information and requests. The user typically feels that he has just seconds to consider each – even though any one of them could define the fate of an entire organization or a political campaign.

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A very simple solution

In the face of all this complexity, the best answer is a very simple one: a checklist.

Atul Gawande, in his book “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” details the importance of checklists in highly specialized fields. These are work environments where success depends on coordination between a number of trained professionals – airline pilots, surgical teams, construction engineers. Often, trained people remember to do complex tasks, like medical professionals performing difficult surgical procedures, but forget to do simple things, like washing hands prior to surgery.

Much like in cybersecurity, the problem is one of complexity and human error, with potentially severe consequences. For instance, one in every 200 medical errors involves performing the wrong procedure, or even working on the wrong patient. That’s where a checklist comes in, reminding the medical staff to reconfirm the patient’s name and visibly mark the correct surgical site.

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In much the same way, a checklist could help us routinize the minimum actions necessary for achieving cybersafety. With this goal in mind, here is a checklist of five best practices that could help protect us online.

Five steps to more secure online operations

  1. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA). Most major online services, from Amazon to Apple, today support 2FA. When it’s set up, the system asks for a login and password just like usual – but then sends a unique numeric code to another device, using text message, email or a specialized app. Without access to that other device, the login is refused. That makes it much harder to hack into someone’s account – but users have to enable it themselves.
  2. Encrypt your internet traffic. A virtual private network (VPN) service encrypts digital communications, making it hard for hackers to intercept them. Everyone should subscribe to a VPN service, some of which are free, and use it whenever connecting a device to a public or unknown Wi-Fi network.
  3. Tighten up your password security. This is easier than it sounds, and the danger is real: Hackers often steal a login and password from one site and try to use it on others. To make it simple to generate – and remember – long, strong and unique passwords, subscribe to a reputable password manager that suggests strong passwords and stores them in an encrypted file on your own computer.
  4. Monitor your devices’ behind-the-scenes activities. Many computer programs and mobile apps keep running even when they are not actively in use. Most computers, phones and tablets have a built-in activity monitor that lets users see the device’s memory use and network traffic in real time. You can see which apps are sending and receiving internet data, for example. If you see something happening that shouldn’t be, the activity monitor will also let you close the offending program completely.
  5. Never open hyperlinks or attachments in any emails that are suspicious. Even when they appear to come from a friend or coworker, use extreme caution – their email address might have been compromised by someone trying to attack you. When in doubt, call the person or company directly to check first – and do so using an official number, never the phone number listed in the email.

Even using this checklist can’t guarantee stopping every attack or preventing every breach. But following these steps will make it significantly harder for hackers to succeed. And it will help us all develop security consciousness and ultimately better cyberhygiene. Our leaders could certainly use the help.

The Conversation

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By Arun Vishwanath, Associate Professor of Communication, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Conservative SCOTUS majority appears ready to allow Trump to kill DACA for over 700,000 dreamers

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Trump once praised the program. Today he drew closer to being allowed to kill it.

The five conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices – including two installed by President Donald Trump – appear ready to allow the nation's chief executive to kill the DACA program that protects 700,000 to 800,000 Dreamers. The program, started by President Barack Obama, offers work authorizations and protections from deportation for those who were brought to America as children and have not known any other land as home for nearly their entire lives.

The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court's four liberal justices during oral arguments Tuesday appeared to focus on the president's motivation for ending DACA, officially the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

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George Conway’s tweet gets mistaken for a swipe at his wife after he laments seeing ‘someone sacrifice her integrity’ for Trump

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After a tweet he fired off this Tuesday morning, some people thought George Conway was subtweeting his wife, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. Conway was actually referring to Nikki Haley's defense of President Trump's infamous phone call with Ukraine's president, but some still couldn't resist pointing out the irony of his words.

"Every time I see someone sacrifice her integrity like this for @realDonaldTrump, I think of that line from the Bourne Identity and the Bourne Conspiracy: 'Look at us. Look at what they make you give,'" Conway tweeted while sharing Haley's recent interview with the Today Show.

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Roger Stone’s entire defense strategy seems to be hoping Trump will pardon him: national security lawyer

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Trump ally Roger Stone is on trial this week on charges of perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice -- and one national security attorney is baffled at how he's trying to defend himself.

Attorney Bradley Moss wrote on Twitter Tuesday that he simply doesn't see how Stone hopes to beat the charges laid out against him, as he so far hasn't had any serious rebuttal to his documented efforts to pressure witness Randy Credico to commit perjury.

"I seriously do not understand Roger Stone's defense strategy," Moss wrote. "This seems like a pro forma defense centered around the belief Trump will simply pardon him and Stone can then monetize his victim status further."

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