Phishing for information

Valparaiso University has recently seen an increase in students receiving suspicious emails thought to be attempts to commit identity fraud.

These emails, known as “phishing scams,” are known to wreak havoc if a person gives their information away to the sender. Becky Klein, manager of the IT Department and Brandon Morrison, manager of the IT Help Desk, explained more about phishing scams.

“A phishing scam is when people steal your information to commit fraud,” Klein said. “It’s usually of the financial information.”

This can have a lot of consequences for students Valpo. Basically, if someone steals your information, they are able to steal your identity and impersonate you online.

“It’s a type of social engineering attack,” Morrison said. “It tries to steal information through the people without someone knowing. Say if you were to answer an email that asked you what your favorite pet’s name was. If you answered, they would receive your information.”

Senior Justin Givens has received some of these emails, but has always been cautious about handing out his information.

“If you have all your passwords taken by somebody else, your whole VU life is pretty much ruined,” Givens said.

When asked about a general profile for the hackers, Klein gave an interesting delivery.

“They [hackers] are never in Valpo. They always come from the outside. Cyber crime can bring in a lot of money. These people can be anyone from a kid living in his parents’ basement to a big-time IT person who turned to the Dark Side,” Klein said.

“About 60 percent of email is phishing scams that are sent out globally,” Morrison said. “According to Google, Gmail filters 99.9 percent of spam. This is usually an organized crime and people rarely act alone.”

With that being said, there are some specific signs to look for in order to decipher a legitimate email from one associated with a phishing scam.

“It’s hard to detect because the scammers are always a step ahead of the protective measures,” Klein said. “These hackers use logos to make it seem legitimate. However, some signs are that these emails contain bad spelling, grammar, weird capitalization and punctuation errors. These emails can range from being babysitting requests to email storage issues. Which, by the way, doesn’t exist since Gmail has unlimited space.”

If you have fallen for a scam, there are a few steps you can take to secure your information.

“The first thing you should do is immediately change your password using the IT website,” Klein said. “Then you should call the Help Desk and let them take you from there.”

“We’ll give you a list of things you should check to see if anyone tampered with it for fraud prevention,” Morrison said. “After that, forward the email to us. Once we have five identical reports detailing the same incident, Becky will send a campus-wide email out to alert everyone.”

When asked about tips for preventing phishing, both IT managers had some advice to give.

“Be suspicious,” Klein said. “Don’t trust an email, and be careful of what you click. Always be safe [rather] than sorry.”  

“October is CyberSecurity Awareness Month,” Morrison said. “There will be many events held throughout the month that are generally well-received. We also have a YouTube channel with many YouTube videos to help educate yourselves. But ultimately, the best way to fight phishing is to educate yourselves and those around you.”


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