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Really Bad Advice

January 13, 2015


(Photo Source: LOLSnaps)

It sounded like a reasonable enough radio commercial that I heard yesterday.

Hi, Jenna?


This is your insurance company. Have you made any recent big purchases?

Why, yes I have. I just bought a gorgeous diamond ring.

We can help with keeping it safe.

Who wouldn’t appreciate an insurance company that proactively reaches out to you to help remind you to keep your possessions safe? What a wonderful thing.

Except it’s not. This is exactly the type of information that thieves would want to find out about you. If anyone calls me and asks me if I’ve recently bought any nice expensive, stealable stuff, I’m going to hang up on them and then possibly change my password.

It’s called Social Engineering, which sounds like a science degree you might get from a Liberal Arts college. But actually, it’s a method for separating you from your money/information/diamond ring by calling you and pretending to be someone you trust.

Like the billboard at the start of this column that talks about texting for more safe driving tips, an insurance company using a social engineering scenario has a certain irony.

Social engineering is especially worrisome in the IT world where passwords are king. If someone can get you to hand over a password via a phone call, or via an email (where it’s called phishing), no amount of anti-virus, anti-malware, firewalls or strong networks is going to keep your information safe.

Microsoft or Google or Yahoo or any computer company will never ask you for your personal password. If there is a problem, reputable companies will not even send you an email with a link that they want you to log in with. That’s what the bad people launching phishing attacks do. Instead, they will say, “There was a problem. Go to your bank’s website and change your password.”

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six months thinking about security, especially cybersecurity. I’ll be coming back to it in the coming months. In the meantime, if someone calls and asks about any recent expensive purchases, unless it’s your mother, it’s probably best to just hang up.

Oh, and despite the billboard advice, don’t text and drive.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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