Cyber Essentials - I'm Hacked, Now What?

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Continuing our blog series targeted at protecting yourself against cyber threats, today's blog topic covers Cyber Bullying.

Today's guest blog contributor is Eric Varela. Eric is a student here at CSU Channel Islands majoring in Information Technology with a minor in Security Systems Engineering.

Define Hacked: No matter how securely you use technology in your day-to-day life, you may eventually be hacked or more commonly called “compromised.” In this blog, you will learn how to determine if your mobile device or computer has been hacked and, if so, what you can do in response. Bottom line, the quicker you detect something is wrong and the faster you respond, the more likely you can reduce the harm a cyber-attacker can cause.

Clues You Have Been Compromised: It can be difficult to determine if you have been compromised, as there is often no single way you can figure it out. On the other hand, hackers usually leave behind several clues, often called ‘indicators’. The closer your system matches any of these indicators, the more likely it has been compromised:

  • Your anti-virus program has flagged an alert that your system is infected, specifically if it says that it was unable to remove or quarantine the affected files.
  • Your web browser’s homepage has unexpectedly changed or your browser is taking you to websites that you did not want to go to.
  • There are new accounts on your computer or mobile device that you did not create, or new programs running that you did not download and install.
  • Your computer or applications are constantly crashing, there are icons for unknown apps on your mobile device, or strange windows keep popping up.
  • A program requests your authorization to make changes to your system, though you’re not installing or updating any of your applications.
  • Your password no longer works when you try to log into your system or an online account, even though you know your password is correct.
  • Your friends ask you why you are spamming them with emails that you know you never sent. 

How to Respond: If you believe your computer or mobile device has been compromised, the sooner you respond the better. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Anti-Virus: If your anti-virus software informs you of an infected file, you can follow the actions it recommends (delete, quarantine, etc.). (Note: Most anti-virus software will have links you can follow to learn more about the specific infection.)
  • Change your passwords: This includes not only changing the passwords on your computers and mobile devices, but for all of your online accounts. Be sure you do not use the compromised computer to change the passwords. Alternatively, use a different computer or device that you know is secure to change the passwords.
  • Rebuilding: If you are unable to fix the infection or you want to be absolutely sure your system is fixed, a more secure option is to rebuild (reformat) it. Follow your system manufacturer’s instructions. In most cases, this will mean using the built-in utilities to reinstall the operating system. (Tip: If these utilities are missing, corrupted, or infected, then contact your manufacturer for guidance or visit their website.)
  • Backups: The most important step you can take to protecting yourself is to prepare ahead of time with regular backups. (Tip: The more often you back up, the better. Often times, recovering your data from a backup is the only way you can recover from being hacked.)

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Cyber Essentials - Anti- Virus

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Continuing our "Cyber Essentials" blog series targeted at protecting yourself against cyber threats, today's blog topic covers Anti-Virus.

Today's guest blog contributor is Eric Varela. Eric is a student here at CSU Channel Islands majoring in Information Technology with a minor in Security Systems Engineering.

Define Anti-Virus: Anti-virus is a security program you install on your computer or mobile device to protect it from getting infected by ‘malware’. The term ‘malware’ is an encompassing phrase for any type of malicious software, such as worms, Trojans, viruses, and spyware. (The term malware comes from combining the words malicious software.) If your computer has become infected by malware, a cyber-attacker could potentially capture your keystrokes, steal your personal and private documents, or use your computer to attack others.
(Tip: You can purchase anti-virus software as a standalone solution, or as part of a security package.)

How Anti-Virus Works: There are two ways anti-virus software identifies malware: signature and behavior detection. Signature detection works like the human immune system. It scans your computer for specific characteristics or signatures of programs known to be malicious. It does this by referring to a dictionary of known malware. If something on your computer matches a pattern in the dictionary, the program attempts to neutralize it. Like the human immune system, the dictionary approach requires updates, (like when humans get flu-shots), to protect against new strains of malware.
(Tip: Anti-virus can only protect against what it recognizes as harmful. Update daily.)

Anti-Virus Tips:
  1. Obtain anti-virus software only from known, trusted sources and vendors. It is a common ploy of cyber attackers to distribute fake anti-virus programs that are really malware.
  2. Make sure your anti-virus automatically scans portable media, such as USB drives, and ensure real-time protection is on.
  3. Pay attention to on-screen warnings and alerts generated by your anti-virus software.
  4. Do not disable or uninstall your anti-virus software. Disabling your anti-virus software will expose you to unnecessary risk.
  5. Do not install multiple anti-virus programs on your computer at the same time. Doing so will most likely cause the programs to conflict with each other.
  6. Learn to recognize the warnings that your anti-virus software produces. Cyber attackers can create malicious websites that post realistic, but fake, anti-virus warnings and offer to “fix” your computer. 

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New PayPal phishing scam hooking victims

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With Phishing and Spearphishing on the rise people need to pay close attention to the email they receive.   The research firm AppRiver is reported a new PayPal phishing scam is making the rounds with this version using a phony security message to obtain personal identifiable information. 

Additional information about phishing can be found at here.

The full article may be found here at SC Magazine.

Cyber 101 Series - Backup and Recovery

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Continuing our "Cyber 101" blog series targeted at protecting yourself against cyber threats, today's blog topic covers Backup and Recovery.

Today's guest blog contributor is Eric Varela. Eric is a student here at CSU Channel Islands majoring in Information Technology with a minor in Security Systems Engineering.

What are ‘Backups’? Backups are copies of your information that are stored somewhere else. When you lose important data, you can recover that data from your backups. The issue is that most people do not perform backups, which is unfortunate, because they can be simple and inexpensive.

When should you Back Up? Common options include hourly, daily, weekly, etc. For home use, personal backup programs, such as Apple’s Time Machine or Microsoft’s Windows Backup and Restore, allow you to create an automatic “set it and forget it” backup schedule. For university use, backing up your classwork files on your personal computer, and when using university equipment, manually backup your files to a USB flash drive or cloud solution. (Tip: Backing up your classwork could save you unimaginable headaches during the semester.)

How to Back Up? There are two ways to back up your data: physical media or Cloud-based storage.
Physical media is any type of hardware, such as DVDs, USB drives or external hard drives. The potential problem with physical media is that if your location has a physical disaster (theft or fire), then not only can you lose your computer, but the backups as well. You should plan to store copies of your backup off-site in a secure location. For extra security, encrypt your backups.
(Tip: Whichever media you choose, never back up your files to the device that holds the original files.)

Cloud-based solutions are different than physical media. This is a service where your files are stored somewhere on the internet. Depending on how much data you want to back up, this may be a paid service. This solution works by installing a program on your computer that automatically backs up your files for you. There are also solutions such as Google Drive and Apple iCloud that make it easy for you to save information on-the-go and from almost any computer. The advantage with this solution is that since your backups are in the ‘Cloud’, your backups are still safe if a disaster happens to your house or device. Plus, you can access your backups, or often even just individual files, from almost anywhere.
(Tip: If you are not sure which backup option is best for you (physical media or Cloud) keep in mind you can always do both.)

Recovery Backing up your data is only half the battle; you have to be certain that you can recover it. Check every month that your backups are working by recovering file and validating the contents. In addition, be sure to make a full system backup before a major upgrade or a major repair and verify that it is restorable.
(Tip: When rebuilding an entire system from a backup, be sure you reapply the latest security patches and updates before using it again.)

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Cyber-Bullying and Cyber-Harassment

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Continuing our blog series targeted at protecting yourself against cyber threats, today's blog topic covers Cyber Bullying.

Today's guest blog contributor is Eric Varela. Eric is a student here at CSU Channel Islands majoring in Information Technology with a minor in Security Systems Engineering.

What is “CyberBullying”? The Journal of School Violence defines it as, “Repeated, intentional and often anonymous act done to harm another person through e-mail, cell phone text messages, social networking websites, chat rooms, and instant messaging. It can be perpetrated by one person or a group of people.”

Types of Cyberbullying:
  • Denigrating: Putting someone down by posting or sending cruel and embarrassing material (text, photos, etc.) about the individual to others.
  • Flaming & Trolling: Posting angry, rude or mean-spirited comments and provoking others to do the same.
  • Harassing: Sending repeated, unwanted messages to another person.
  • Outing: Posting or sending out private information about someone without that person’s permission and with the intent of embarrassing or harming that person.
  • Excluding: Leaving someone out of an online group for malicious reasons.
  • Masquerading: Sending or posting messages, or creating Facebook, Twitter, or other social media profiles as someone else in attempt to damage the victim’s reputation or relationships.
  • Mobbing: Recruiting friends and allies to send hundreds of text messages to the victim’s cell phone or mobile device.
  • Stalking: Threatening harm or intimidating someone else by constantly monitoring their actions and locations. Stalking is a serious issue. Thousands of college students are stalked every year.

What to do if you are Harassed:
  • Decide whether to respond: If you know the person, respond to the first message, telling them to stop. If the first message is anonymous, don’t respond. Don’t respond to any additional messages and block or delete/unfriend/unfollow the person.
  • Document. Document. Document: Take screen shots. Save all communications for evidence. Do not alter them in any way. Keep electronic copies, not just print-outs. Having forms of proof such as the actual text messages, emails, and voicemail makes it easier to build a case for harassment and pursue charges.
  • Report It: Report abusive posts or messages to the service provider—Facebook, Twitter, the harassers’ cell phone provider, or their internet service provider. You can also report the abuse to your Residential Advisor.

How to Help Someone Being Harassed:

  1. Refuse to pass on the harasser’s messages.
  2. Tell Friends to stop the harassment or bullying.
  3. Offer the victim support without blame.
  4. Report abusive posts to the proper authorities.
  5. Block communication with those who are posting or sending abusive messages.

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Avoiding Online Tax Scams

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It’s tax season again, which means it’s also time for tax scams. Some tax scams occur when fraudulent tax returns are filed in the victim’s name while other variants occur when the malicious actors call the victim and pretend to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents. In addition, there are malicious actors who use the tax season to spread malware and phishing emails.

Tax scams where the malicious actor files the return in the victim’s name include both identity theft and identity fraud, as well as tax fraud. This scenario occurs when the malicious actor finds or receives information about the tax filer, including the filer’s name, address, date of birth, and Social Security Number. The malicious actor then uses this information to file a malicious tax return, citing as many deductions as possible, in order to create as large a tax return as possible.

The other variant of tax scams occur when the malicious actor contacts the victim and tries to convince the victim to do something, such as immediately paying a fine or providing their financial information so a refund can be issued. In these instances the malicious actor uses what they know about the victim, often information gained for a data breach or social networking website, to convince the victim that the caller has access to the victim’s tax information. Frequently during these calls the caller will pretend to be an IRS agent.

In the third type of tax scam, malicious actors use tax related spam, phishing emails, and fraudulent websites to trick victims into providing login names, passwords, or additional information, which can be used in further fraud. Other emails or websites may download malware onto the victim’s computer.

What to Watch Out For

  • Watch for “spoofed” websites that look like the official website but are not. 
  • Don’t be fooled by unsolicited calls. The IRS will never call to demand an immediate payment or require you to use a specific payment method such as pre-loaded debit or credit cards, or wire transfers. They will never claim anything is “urgent” or due immediately, nor will they request payment over the phone. 
  • The IRS will not be hostile, insulting, or threatening, nor will they threaten to involve law enforcement in order to have you arrested or deported. 
  • Sometimes malicious actors change their Caller ID to say they are the IRS. If you’re not sure, ask for the agent’s name, hang up, and call the IRS (or your state tax agency) back using a phone number from their official website. 


If you believe you are the victim of identity theft or identity fraud, there are a couple of steps you should take:

  1. File a report with your local law enforcement agency. 
  2. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at
  3. File a report with the three major credit bureaus and request a “fraud alert” for your account (Equifax –, Experian –, TransUnion –
If you receive spam or a phishing email about your taxes, do not click on the links or open any attachments, instead forward the email to Other tax scams or frauds can be reported according to the directions on this page:

Further Information

Protect Yourself Against Cyber Threats - Mobile Devices

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Continuing our blog series targeted at protecting yourself against cyber threats, today's blog topic covers Mobile Devices.

Today's guest blog contributor is Eric Varela. Eric is a student here at CSU Channel Islands majoring in Information Technology with a minor in Security Systems Engineering.

What is a “Mobile Device”? 

The term “Mobile Device” gets thrown around for anything from a smartphone to a tablet, and while that classification is true, mobile devices encompass items such as Laptops, Chromebooks, “smart watches” (Apple Watch), “smart appliances” (refrigerators, washing machines), and even “smart thermostats” (Nest). Thanks largely in part to technology that allows computer processors, graphics processing, and memory to be the size of a quarter, powerful computing capabilities can be found almost anywhere and in the most mundane of places.

Keep a Clean Mobile Machine: 
Mobile devices are computers at their core with software that needs to be kept up-to-date (just like your desktop PC). Security protections are built in and updated on a regular basis. (Tip: Take time to make sure all the mobile devices in your home have the latest protections).

Suspect Links and Texts: 
Be suspicious of unknown links or requests sent through email or text message. Do not click on unknown links or answer strange questions sent to your mobile device, regardless of who the sender appears to be, as some links are designed to gather your personal information.

Be Careful What You Download: 
Download only trusted applications from reputable sources or marketplaces, as some apps may install harmful code onto your device (malware).

  • Secure Your Phone: Use a strong passcode and lock your phone. 
  • Think Before you App: Review the privacy policy and understand what data (location, access to your social networks) the app can access on your device before you download. 

Protect Your Personal Information: 
Phones can contain tremendous amounts of personal information. Lost or stolen devices can be used to gather information about you, and potentially, others. Protect your phone like you would your computer. (Tip: Only give your mobile number out to people you know and trust and never give anyone else’s number out without their permission).

Connect with Care: 
Use common sense when you connect. If you’re online through an unsecured or unprotected network, be cautious about the sites you visit and the information you release.

  • Get Savvy about Wi-Fi Hotspots: Limit the type of business you conduct and adjust the security settings on your device to limit who can access your phone.
  • Protect your $: When banking or shopping, check to be sure the site is security enabled. (Tip: Look for web addresses with “https://” or “shttp://”, which means the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. 
  • When in Doubt, Don’t Respond: Fraudulent texting, calling and voicemails are on the rise. Just like email, requests for personal information or for immediate action are almost always a scam. 

Derived from NICCS and StaySafe Online