Be Vigilant for Cyber Criminals During the Holidays and Major Events

BURLINGTON, Vt. (Dec. 17, 2012)— A cyber security expert at Champlain College is advising people to be on the lookout for online hoaxes and fraudulent e-mails designed to capitalize on their vulnerabilities in the wake of a tragedy like the Newtown, Conn. shootings and the hectic holiday shopping season.

Duane Dunston, an instructor in the Champlain College Division of Information Technology & Sciences, advises that cyber criminals often try to take advantage of tragic events by sending emails with viruses or programs that can harm computers or compromise or steal a person's identity and financial information.

"Having worked in the industry of cyber security for so long, I've seen it happen too many times, but it can AND does happen. It happens during all major tragic events," Dunston said Monday.

Champlain College offers a CyberSecurity specialization for students in its Computer Networking and Information Security major. The Computer Networking & Information Security major provides a foundation for understanding how computers and networks communicate securely. The CyberSecurity specialization builds on that foundation with courses designed to help students understand the nature and impact of cyber threats, as well as how to prevent them.

Dunston offers the following advice for the days ahead while shopping online and tracking major news stories:

Be careful of email messages that claim to have photos, videos, recent updates, etc. regarding any major events.

  • Don't read or forward email messages regarding the event, especially ones that have a web link AND don't follow the web link.
  • Don't forward or open attachments related to the event. An email attachment that appears to be a photograph, may be more than you expect.
  • Visit reputable news sites if you want to receive the latest information or check your local news or radio station.

Be careful of charities that ask for money and require you to donate using your credit card via their website. Also, be wary of people on the street with "Donations" to the victims of the tragedy. They'll use all sorts of psychological tricks, including having photos or other visual reminders to spark an emotional reaction or solicit stories from you or have you "think of your own family being affected." During a major event, check with the local Red Cross or the Red Cross website for official ways to assist those in need. http://www.redcross.org/

Safe Holiday Shopping Recommendations:

This time of year the phishing email attempts kick into high gear especially with the use of bogus delivery confirmation messages. Be very careful with those messages, especially if you ordered a package and you are waiting on a confirmation.

Phishers attempt to gather information from you by throwing out bait (a fake email from your bank requesting your username and password) and hoping you'll bite; thus, the term "phishing." Some best practices include:

  • Copy the tracking number in the email. Manually type in the web site for the shipping company, instead of clicking the link in the email. www.ups.com, www.usps.com, www.fedex.com are the most popular delivery methods. Then paste the tracking number into the website on its respective page.
  • If at all possible and it is in your budget, try to shop with reputable online sellers like Amazon.com, Yahoo.com, jcpenny.com, etc. Just because a site is "Secure," and has a locked padlock, the site could still be fraudulent. A criminal can pay about $30 to get a valid secure certificate (to display the padlock) to lure you to their site. The amount of money they can steal from you after getting your credit card information and banking information quickly pays off their small investment.
  • Be attentive of low-price items and the shipping cost. Some companies offer the item at a low-price, but the shipping can cost a whole lot of money.

Dunston also noted that during the holiday season, some reputable companies will hire a third-party organization to handle the financial transactions. Some organizations will do that to minimize the load on their system. Using a secure site uses up more resources because everything is being encrypted (scrambling your financial information) so someone can't easily see your financial information across the Internet. During the holidays, many companies get 100 to 200 times more visits than normal so it is not unusual to be redirected to another website to handle a financial transaction. He suggests:

  • Call the company you want to purchase the item from and ask them to verify the name of the third-party organization handling the financial transaction. REMEMBER, don't ask them if "XYZ company" is handling the financial transaction, let them tell you the name of the company.
  • Stay away from resellers on sites like Amazon.com that want you to pay for items through a third-party organization called an "escrow" company. These pop-up often and can be fraudulent companies.
  • If you are using instant messaging programs, it is best to completely close those applications before shopping online. A lot of people look at the keyboard when they are typing and it is very easy for an instant message window to pop-up as you type sensitive information and you press "Enter.

"It is important, Dunston said, to be sure you have the latest antivirus software. This will help find programs such as keyloggers, backdoors, or other malicious programs that attempt to capture personal information.

"It really comes down to being aware," Dunston said. "If you shop with Amazon.com, for example, you can be pretty much be assured that your credit card information is being sent over a secure connection. The risk of your credit card being stolen online is about the same as giving it to someone at a store or at a restaurant."

The Better Business Bureau has some good information: www.bbbonline.org/OnlineShopTips/

Learn more about the cybersecurity program by clicking here.


Since 1878, Champlain College has provided career-focused education to students from its hilltop campus in Burlington, Vt. Champlain's distinctive educational approach embodies the notion that true learning only occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain offers traditional undergraduate and online undergraduate courses, along with online certificate and degree programs and 11 master's degree programs. Champlain offers study abroad programs at its campuses in Montreal, Quebec and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition. Champlain was named a "Top-Up-and-Coming School" by U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges and is ranked in the top tier of 2014 Regional Colleges in the North. For more information, visit www.champlain.edu


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