In late 2010, Tejas Shah found he had a serious problem. A week earlier, the sales vice president had lost his official laptop on a flight. Before the IT team could wipe the hard drive, his email account had been compromised.
The hacker found Shah's birth date, address, phone number, credit card details-which Shah shared over a chat with his wife-and information on his investments. Soon Shah's bank account showed unauthorised withdrawals.
It was not till four long months after lodging a complaint, that the cyber crime cell of the Mumbai Police could track down the culprit. This story is a warning. Laptop thieves generally recycle stolen devices but the person who stole Shah's laptop was after a bigger prize. And he knew exactly how and where to find it. The stakes are getting higher and we show you how stay on guard online.
The first frontier of defence is a strong password. A strong password should be at least seven characters long, have lower and upper case letters, and a mix of symbols and numbers. Memorising a randomly generated password that doesn't have any personal significance is safest. Never share passwords in an email, chat or SMS and make your secondary security questions or hints hard to guess. A basic and inviolable rule of thumb is to change your passwords every three months.
Sharing information with people whom you've only met online is a common cyber mistake and the easiest to exploit. Be alert and report all requests for sensitive information especially billing details. Politely refuse to befriend anyone whose identity cannot be vouchsafed on networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Downloading and installing unverified applications may seem safe since you trust the routing website but backfires if the applications hack your account. Be responsible about which applications you permit to access your information.
Online shopping is another security nightmare. This year, Pune's cyber crime cell cracked a case that involved the misuse of as many as 100 credit cards. The two-year-long investigation began when one cardholder received a notification for the purchase of an air ticket he hadn't bought. More mystifying was that his card had stayed stowed in his wallet the whole while. The police were able to arrest a group of scamsters that had accessed his details over an unsecured online purchase earlier. If you're buying online, find out precisely how the vendor will store or share your information. Only shop with trusted merchants, those who offer SSL encryption and have been digitally signed by web-security sites like VeriSign. Report messages from third-party payment services to confirm account details or other personal data. Crucially, never use billed services on public computers.
Banking safely online is the key to cyber security. Begin by making sure you've typed in the right URL, since dummy sites are a dime a dozen and by keeping your password safe. "On a monthly basis, we inform our customers never to share personal banking details like netbanking passwords or ATM pins with any one," says Sukriti Soni, senior marketing executive at HDFC Bank. "Should they get [such] a call or email, customers ought to report abuse."
Additional measures include logging out immediately after completing a transaction. Avoid accessing your account from shared computers as these can have keyloggers, screen recorders or other malicious software. Sign up for SMS notifications so you are instantly alerted to any unauthorised transactions.
As internet speeds improve, people are downloading freeware rather than purchasing software legitimately. To make sure the software is genuine and spyware-free, download directly from a company's website or run a Google search first to authenticate it. If buying a disk, look for holograms on the packaging and check the serial numbers and registration keys. Save all original licenses and documents and adhere to usage policies of the supplier. Flouting these norms invalidates the warranty and can prove dangerous. Staying safe online isn't just about protecting your privacy. Because of an increasing reliance on online services, a single slip-up could put your finances in the hands of an unscrupulous hacker. With the freedom the internet offers, comes a new host of responsibilities. Surf safe.