Published May 20th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
The Colonial Pipeline hack has turned the heads of even the least internet savvy toward the dark world of cyber crime.
Hackers have been taking full advantage of the last year’s chaos to extort money from internet users, and Missourians were among those hit the hardest.
According to data from the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, 1,824 cyber crime victims in Missouri had the highest average loss at $63,549. In comparison, Kansas ranked 35th in the nation with an average loss of $17,575 suffered by 1,090 victims.
1. Missouri – $63,549
2. North Dakota – $60,718
3. Ohio – $45,893
4. Massachusetts – $44,518
5. Connecticut – $42,633
Source: Rublon. To find out the full list of states and how each one has been impacted by cybercrimes, visit: https://rublon.com/blog/cybercrime-america-most-risk/
A cyber crime can be defined as any use of a computer to carry out criminal activity. Most commonly that looks like an email being sent from a seemingly reputable source asking for sensitive information. This is known as phishing.
“It is dangerous because when you’re sitting at a computer, you don’t really know who you’re dealing with,” said Michal Wendrowski, managing director of the cyber security group Rublon.
Hackers today are more cunning than ever, impersonating employers, companies, family and even affectionate strangers to elicit money from businesses and individuals alike.
Computers may not have emotions, but the people behind them are able to play on fear, urgency, desperation and even love to manipulate individuals into revealing personal information or sending money. Those in cyber security call this social engineering.
Detective Leland Blank works with the FBI and the Kansas City Police Department’s Cyber Crimes Task Force. Over the years he has watched hackers become more and more advanced in their extortion tactics.
Gone are the days when hackers would send email posing as a Nigerian prince asking for money. Their methods now are much more complicated, personal and difficult to catch.
“The thing that’s been eye opening for me … is how advanced these scams have become,” Blank said. “There’s stuff that I might fall for and I’ve been a cop for 18 years.”
Source: FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report
Wendrowski said that he most commonly sees smaller businesses get attacked online.
Large corporations are a tempting target, but they often have large cyber security budgets. Small- to medium-sized businesses, however, are “primarily focused on sales and marketing.” They’re bringing in a significant amount of money but typically don’t have the capital to dedicate teams to cyber security, making them vulnerable targets.
While small- to mid-sized businesses are the white whale of cyber crime, according to the FBI Internet Crime Report the group losing out the most is those over age 60.
“Many times they search out the vulnerable,” FBI spokesperson Bridget Patton said. “They search out the elderly. They search out for somebody that may have been widowed that’s looking for companionship.”
After a few months of emailing an unknowing victim, a scammer will often ask for the money for a plane ticket to visit in person. But of course, something will always come up and delay the trip. A successful romance scam for a hacker results in sometimes thousands of dollars lost for a vulnerable person just looking for someone to talk to.
Even though the average person doesn’t have the same financial allure as a business when it comes to hacking, the experts say that individuals need to be just as vigilant when it comes to protecting themselves online.
“A private person should have an understanding of the basics of the internet or general data security,” Wendrowski said.
If the Colonial Pipeline hack has taught us anything, it’s that anyone can be vulnerable to a cyber attack. Experts say that the best way to protect online accounts is by using strong passwords and turning on two-factor authentication. Internet users also need to pay close attention to email addresses, as hackers are skilled in crafting addresses that are almost identical to those of coworkers and family.
Though these are the best ways to stay safe, everyone should do their best to stay up to date with basic data security. As cyber security companies like Rublon develop new ways to keep accounts secure, hackers are working on how to bypass them.
“It’s almost like a cyber arms race at all times,” Blank said.
If you do become a victim of a cyber crime, FBI representatives say the best thing to do is report the incident.
Catherine Hoffman covers community affairs and culture for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.