Criminals poised for Cyber Monday

Sophisticated hacks steal records from millions

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 29, 2010, file photo, a consumer looks at Cyber Monday sales on her computer at her home in Palo Alto, Calif. Retailers are rolling out online deals on so-called "Cyber Monday." But now that shoppers are online all the time anyway, the 10-year-old shopping holiday is losing some of its luster. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — For many of us the holiday season is all about spending money.

We’re online shopping for gifts, transferring money, paying bills.

Frankly, it’s a way of life now,” said Joanne Giuffrida.

Online is also where criminals are lurking.

“It is scary. You have to be on your toes all of the time,” said Patti Schwarzkopf.

Cyber criminals are ready with fake web pages and emails all aimed at getting your identity and your money.

“We are seeing a lot more of this and people are falling for it because remember, Cyber Monday is built on bargain hunting so they are taking advantage of it,” said Dr. Arun Vishwanath, a University at Buffalo associate professor who studies cybercrime.

While Cyber Monday focuses on consumers, there is another broader threat out there:

Sophisticated and organized cyber criminals who are attacking financial institutions, companies and government.

Their scheme is to collect the personal information and use it against you.

New York’s federal prosecutor recently sounded the alarm while announcing the indictment of three men in connection with a stunning attack on JP Morgan Chase and 11 other companies.

“By any measure, the data breaches at these firms were breathtaking in scope and in size,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York when he announced the charges.

“The conduct alleged in this case showcases the brave new world of hacking for profit,” he added.

“It is no longer hacking merely for a quick payout. Rather it is hacking for support of a diversified criminal conglomerate. It is hacking to identify victims. It is hacking to spy on the competition. It is hacking to maximize profits.”

The case has been described as the stealing of personal information of over 100 million customers of the dozen companies – one of the largest thefts of financial data in history.

“This is one of the first if not the first case where we actually understand what it is that the hackers are doing with the data that they are mining,” said UB’s Vishwanath.

In the JP Morgan Chase case, the suspects allegedly used emails and personal information to sell stock to the bank’s 83 million customers. Stock prices were manipulated to go up in value and then crash, triggering massive losses.

“What they were doing is utilizing information to sell you stuff. It’s a very different kind of scheme,” said Vishwanath.

Because cybercrime has no borders, the FBI has made it a high priority.

The agency also monitors scams and alerts consumers and businesses.

David Peacock is a FBI special agent in the Buffalo Office. He’s assigned to the cyber squad and focuses on illegal entries into computer systems.

Peacock said people should be concerned about cyber criminals. “With all of the advents in cyber it’s just created many more tools for the adversaries to get at that money.”

The losses nationwide from cybercrime are huge. Recent break-ins have exposed the personal identities of millions of Americans.

Examples of the largest recent break-ins are the federal Office of Personnel Management where the identities of 19.7 million were stolen and Anthem Inc. health insurance where personal records were compromised for as many as 80 million people.

Experts say individuals have a role to play in helping to keep computer systems secure by cleaning up their cyber activities at home and at work.

“One of the biggest threats to financial loss remains the end user and it’s the person’s responsibility to make sure they protect their information and conduct their financial transactions in a secure way,” said Peacock.

“The solution is not to stop doing what we are doing but to do it more smartly,” said Vishwanath. “It’s also to develop better cyber hygiene.”

Here are some tips on how you can protect yourself online:

  • Avoid doing financial transactions on a tablet or smartphone connected to a public Wi-Fi
  • Never respond to emails or open attachments when you are distracted
  • Use separate emails for work and shopping to avoid getting risky emails at work.

Joanne Giuffrida worries about hackers but, like many people, it doesn’t stop her from shopping and banking online.  “I am playing the odds and so far it hasn’t caught up with me.”

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