Cybersecurity Expert Warns Social Media Users

by Cynthia Tintorri
March 07, 2013

Kristina Dorville of the Department of Homeland SecurityCybersecurity is a hot topic these days, with identity theft and malicious hacking on the rise. A capacity crowd turned out at Northampton Community College on March 7 to hear Kristina Dorville, director of cybersecurity awareness programs for  the Department of Homeland Security, talk about the government's Stop.Think.Connect  public awareness campaign.

"Everyone has a role to play," Dorville said of cybersecurity, "whether you're an actual target or not. Cybercriminals might use you and your computer as an access point."

Dorville's agency, the NCCIC, works with the FBI, private sector, cyber centers and interagency and intelligence partners to identify malicious activity -- and there's plenty of it. "You don't always hear about it, but threats are being blocked all the time," Dorville said.

In fact, 1 in 5, or 18%, of Americans have been the victim of a cybercrime. The money made in cybercrime annually surpasses that of the criminal drug trade. Many cybercriminals use information gained from social networking sites to commit their crimes, "yet 15% of all Americans have never checked to see what their social networking privacy and security settings are."

To demonstrate, Dorville showed a brief video  in which a "clairvoyant" reads the minds of several unsuspecting participants. He knows odd and specific details of their lives, amazing them with his clairvoyant abilities -- until it's revealed that he is using information supplied by a team behind a curtain, accessing participants' publicly available personal information from the internet.

"Cybercriminals use information from your Facebook timeline and where you've checked in to commit crimes," Dorville said. "They use your birthdate, routines, interests, and hobbies to impersonate you or act as a trusted friend, to convince the unsuspecting that they have the authority to access your personal or financial data."

And criminals aren't the only ones peeking in on your cyber-life. "The Library of Congress has archived every single tweet posted since 2006," she warned. "And what you say on Facebook can be used against you in a court of law."

Younger, unsuspecting online users are particularly at risk. "We don't let 15 or 16 year-olds get behind the wheel of a car until they've had hours and hours of classroom and behind-the-wheel training. Yet we let 5 and 6 year-olds out onto the information superhighway with no instruction or supervision, every time they go on a computer, an iPad, or a cell phone," Dorville said.

What to do? Dorville urged that you "own your online identity. The first "w" in "www" stands for world, after all." She suggested the following:

  • Set up privacy restrictions on all social media sites.
  • Don't use the same password for more than one site, and choose one that means something to you only. In particular, don't use your online banking password for any other site.
  • Change your passwords frequently.
  • Lock your computer and cell phone.
  • Don't open emails from strangers, and never click on links or open attachments for unfamiliar sites.
  • Notify law enforcement if you think you've been a victim of identity theft at the FBI's Crime Complaint Center at
  • Avoid using public wi-fi hotspots if at all possible, and never to access sensitive information like a bank account.
  • Make sure your anti-virus software and web browser are the latest versions.
  • Think twice about what you say, or what is being said about you, online. 53% of organizations use social media to screen job applicants.
  • Monitor who your children talk to and what they're doing online.
  • Keep personal information about yourself private - family members, school, telephone numbers, exact birthdate and address.
  • Never confirm or update personal information requested in an email. This threat is called "phishing."

For more information about how to stay safe online, check out Homeland Security's site at


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