REMEMBER the time when it felt like we were constantly being warned about identity theft?
When criminal masterminds were ready the minute you closed your curtains or headed to work to rake through your bin and with astounding computing knowledge and a lack of sense of smell, piece together cut up credit cards and any other information they’d need from soggy receipts and bank statements to rob you blind?
There was a resulting spike in sales of home shredding machines and mass panic as we tried to make our computer passwords so obtuse that even we could never remember them twice.
Loose lips which spilled Pin number secrets made all our lives more costly.
But other preoccupations took over. Bird flu, the Olympics, the independence referendum and their ilk have conspired to make “e-crime” just a kind of niggling worry at the back of the mind.
Yet the threat of this white collar crime has not disappeared. In fact, it’s evolving more rapidly than a medical virus.
Last year, one in three people were victims of a cyber crime and fraud losses on UK cards totalled £388 million – a 14 per cent increase from total fraud losses of £341m in 2011.
The increase followed three years of significant decreases – the peak was in 2008 when fraud was at its £610m highest.
And overall, cyber crime is alleged to cost the economy £5 billion a year.
So next week, a major e-crime summit is being held in Edinburgh in an attempt to share and distribute knowledge and intelligence vital for companies – and their customers – to do to their online business safely and securely.
A Cyber Reslience Group has also been created by the government’s Scottish Business Crime Centre to crack down on business e-security. The cybermen in this case are the good guys.
But what about those of us who use our phones or laptops to do our banking, pay our credit cards as well as pursue more leisurely activities? Is it possible to stay safe?
Here are the top ten tips from Gary Ritchie, assistant director of the Scottish Business Crime Centre.
1: Password is paramount
So, let’s start with the basics.
When it comes to creating passwords and Pin numbers DO NOT use dates of birth, telephone numbers or other easily guessed digits – especially not on your mobile phone.
It is also important to make passwords, where possible, a mix of both capital and lower case letters as well as numbers.
Although it is easier to re-use the same Pin number or password when registering for different websites, you should resist this “easy” option as it makes you more vulnerable.
2: Keep the secret
While everyone is guilty of being “safe” in that they save Pin numbers and passwords somewhere, say in a file on their computer, you have to make sure you don’t then label that file “passwords” or similar.
In fact, you should never write a password down if you can help it. It is also a good idea to make sure that no-one knows your passwords and Pin numbers.
3: E-mail wary
We have all received a suspicious looking e-mail asking for us to help transfer funds or saying we have just won a large sum of money – the best thing to do with these is delete them immediately.
Even if such e-mails come from a friend’s account do not entertain them.
4: Put up the firewall
Having password protection alone isn’t enough – you need additional measures in place like a firewall.
A firewall is a technological barrier to stop unauthorised communications between computer networks, to stop hackers getting into your information.
So when connected to the internet, you must make sure that your firewall is turned on and is up to date.
5: Treat the Virus
Similar to firewalls, anti-virus software should be installed on every computer and regularly updated. This software stops harmful programmes, or “viruses” as they are known, accessing your device. To help your firewall and anti-virus software protect your computer, ensure that when your computer asks you if you want to update your services, you say yes.
6: Cryptic measures
For sensitive information it is also advisable to use encryption software. Such software ensures that someone cannot make sense of information they may be able to get at through your internet connection.
If you use memory sticks to store information, these too should have encryption software applied.
7: Shopping sakely
If you are unsure about whether or not a website is secure, check the URL – that is the website name at the top of your screen. This should always start with the letters http – the big clue being the “S” on the end which means secure.
There should also be a padlock logo displayed somewhere across the top of the page.
When making payments online it is especially important you verify these markers before revealing any of your details.
8: Social media
As a result of the increase in popularity of Facebook and Twitter, cyber criminals are increasingly targeting victims through these channels.
No matter who you are speaking to, never pass out personal details on social media sites, and resist putting your date of birth or other personal details on your profiles.
9: Silver surfers
While Scotland has a growing legion of “silver surfers” using the web and discovering social media channels, fears of them becoming prime targets for internet scammers is also on the rise as they are prone to falling for e-mails that appear legitimate and from a trusted source.
To help combat this growing threat Scam Detector, a smartphone/web-based app, exposes more than 600 of the world’s most fraudulent scams and is available to download for free at http://scam-detector.com.
10: Secure your wi-fi
You can password protect your wi-fi network with a complex phrase to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of e-crime and stop neighbours tapping into an internet network that you pay for.
To hide your wi-fi network, set-up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name also known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID).
In addition, make sure to turn on the encryption so that passwords are required for access.
Lastly, it is critical to change the administrative password that was on the device when it was first purchased.
• The e-Crime Scotland Summit 2013 is being held on May 28 at the Royal Bank of Scotland Headquarters, Gogarburn, supported by RBS and Scottish Enterprise.
How to choose the perfect password
Passwords are vital for security – especially when it comes to mobile phones which contain contacts, banking details, e-mails and other applications. Smartphones and tablets “open the door” to your whole life.
So to create the perfect password for you follow these rules:
1 Obvious as it may seem ALWAYS create a password.
2 Make it as difficult to guess as possible. Go for something that’s unique but easy for you to remember. Avoid dictionary words.
3 Longer is stronger. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Make yours a minimum of six digits, try to use eight.
4 Mix numbers and letters. If your device allows it, use a password that combines numbers, letters and punctuation and use upper and lower cases.
5 Make it unique. Don’t use the same password for anything else, including other devices, bank cards or online accounts such as your e-mail or Facebook. So if one password gets hacked the rest stay secure.
6 DO NOT use any of these most common easy to guess passwords: Your user name. Your user name followed by 1, (123, 123456, etc), Password, passwd, test, abc123, qwerty.
7 Or on iphones, DO NOT use the most easy to crack passcodes: 1234, 0000, 2580, 1111, 5555, 5638, 0852, 2222, 1212, 1998.
8 Make a deliberate misspellings or turn a simple password like “catlover” into a more secure version like “c@LUVr!”
9 Consider changing your passwords every few months, if not sooner.