“Easiest Catch: Another Fish in the Dark Net ”

By John Horchner

Today, more and more of the products we bring into our homes and businesses are connected to the Internet—thermostats, smart speakers, even pacemakers.

It’s called The Internet of Things and “. . . that’s the topic that keeps me up at night,” said Mark Lanterman, a computer forensics expert who spoke at University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus on Oct. 7 as part of the LearningLife program.

“Whenever we gain convenie­nce, we give up security,” he said.

Lanterman, who teaches cybersecurity at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, works for Computer Forensic Services, a Minnesota consulting firm whose clients include states, counties and towns. He often dispenses free advice, but it’s not always heeded. In one case, a small city in the south left a web page for vital controls unprotected for six months, Lanterman said, adding that was six months after he made them aware of the problem.

“Hackers need our help,” he said, “and unfortunately we’re willing to give it to them.”

Organizations aren’t the only ones at risk. Today it is common for everyone to receive phishing emails. “Whenever you are asked to give anything of value, pick up the phone and call an unknown number to verify it,” he said. “Attacks are becoming more sophisticated.”

As an example, Lanterman showed the email that John Podesta’s personal Gmail account was sent when he headed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Hackers sent a message pretending to be part of a security team for Google and asked him to click on a phony link and enter a new password. That one mistake opened the door to his email account and may have been what influenced the results of the 2016 election, Lanterman said.

During the Q-and-A period, most of the audience’s questions focused on how people can protect themselves.

Lanterman said the first line of defense has to be oneself because “the government is not going to do it for you.” Most antivirus products don’t work well, he said, including the highly advertised ones. “But they’re better than nothing,” he added.

After testing, he prefers Apple computers because the operating system is more resistant to hacks. “Ninety percent of hacks occur on a Windows computer,” Lanterman said. One way to protect against hacking is to “get off public Wi-Fi at airports, especially if you’re going to be typing in usernames and passwords,” he said. “Don’t be low-hanging fruit.”

Next up: UMN LearningLife’s “Headliners” for November will be “How Neuroscience Will Revolutionize the Law” by Francis X Shen, associate professor of law. It will be held at the Continuing Education and Conference Center at the university’s St. Paul campus. To register, go to https://ccaps.umn.edu/learninglife

John Horchner is a publishing professional who lives in St. Anthony Park.

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