I've Been Hacked!

Haven't I?

I’ve seen many of my friends on Facebook and elsewhere announce that they’ve been hacked. This time we’ll look into what that means and what could have happened.

“I’ve been hacked! Don’t accept friend requests from me!”

Have they really? In all likelihood the answer is no. What has probably happened is that some nefarious individual has come across their profile and copied some of the pictures and other information and, after looking at their list of friends, sent them friend requests. Sometimes there will be a message attached to the request saying something like they have lost access to their original account or even claiming that their original account was hacked or otherwise compromised. Don’t fall for this! Use an alternate method to contact your friend to see if the request is legitimate. Most often it isn’t, it’s just someone trying to gain access to your friends’ friends list.

Why would they do this? If you’re like me there’s not really any useful or valuable information in my Facebook. Well, consider this: they’re looking for folks who post things that indicate they’re lonely so they can try to befriend them and then, after a period of time, become close enough friends that they can begin taking their money. Doesn’t happen? Ha! See this article from AARP on this very subject: https://states.aarp.org/alaska/romance-and-dating-scams. John Oliver did a whole section on this on his show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” with the rather distastefully named subject of Pig Butchering: https://youtu.be/pLPpl2ISKTg?si=GhgiuKwF-o3ufqgY&t=112 so, yes, it’s a BIG deal! While you may not be a fan of his humor I encourage you to watch the whole thing to understand the magnitude of this scam. And in case you just can’t get through it, let me give you the highlights. Large scam operations in places like China or Russia will advertise a well payjng job. Hires will be given a playbook and a list of names and contact information and the employee will work his or her way through the playbook over the course of weeks or months, gaining the trust of the person being scammed then asking them for money. Often they will start with small sums then escalate to larger sums. You might wonder why the employee doesn’t just quit? Well, they’re often charged for all sorts of things making it impossible for them to leave their employer. Why don’t the scammed people come forward? Often when they realize they’re being scammed they’re too embarrassed to admit it.

So it’s not just Facebook. A scam can start with an innocent text. But how do they get the information to start the scam? There are many ways but one is to look at the polls and questions that people answer on sites like Facebook. How many of these things have you done? “How many of these countries have you visited?” “Who can identify these things from our childhood?” “I prefer dogs over cats” or “I hate mayonnaise, convince me otherwise” and then watch the commentary.

What’s the answer? Lock down your privacy settings on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. It can be difficult, I know, but a little searching can tell you what to change and how to do it.

How about email? Has your friend gotten suspicious email that looks like it’s from you? Don’t panic. Again, your email account has probably not been hacked. Rather, your email address has turned up in some data leak and one of those “butchering” groups or someone else entirely is trying to falsely represent themselves as you. How is this possible? Without going into a lot of technical detail, let me just say that email is the least protected mechanism for communicating. Why? It was easy for anyone with a little knowledge to masquerade as anyone when sending an email. A major oversight, right? Well, remember that email was developed in the very early days of the Internet when only trusted sites were allowed to be on the Internet.

Recently, Google, Yahoo, and a few others have adopted a new policy that says any domain sending more than about 5,000 emails to them on a daily basis adopt this new framework which validates that email purporting to come from their domain is, in fact, coming from one of their email servers. In other words, that email from me - [email protected] - is actually coming from an email server for TonysTakeOnTech.com. This framework isn’t perfect because it doesn’t guarantee that the email is coming from the named user (in this example, “tony”) but it’s a step in the right direction. How? Well, it ensures that any email from any participating email provider being sent to your friend’s Google account is coming from an allowed email server. If not it will be flagged for you, moved to your SPAM folder, or outright rejected. It’s not perfect yet, particularly in how you might be notified of a violation of this framework but it’s new and evolving and we can expect more changes in this area in the future.

That's all for this week's column. I hope this helps you understand how you can be targeted and that you have probably not been “hacked.” Don't hesitate to write to me if you have questions!

As always, my intent is to help you understand the basics and equip you to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, to sign up for my newsletter, or whatever at [email protected] or just drop me a quick note and say HI!

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