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Oklahoma State University

Our Stuff is Out There

By Mallory Thompson

Cybersecurity refers to the techniques used to protect computers, computer systems and data from unauthorized access or exploitation. Today, we manage an increasing amount of our lives digitally, making cybersecurity a more prevalent issue now than ever before.

“What is privacy for you? We are living in a different world. Our stuff is out there,” said Jim Burkman, clinical associate professor and Management Science and Information Assurance graduate coordinator in the Spears School of Business.

Burkman offers advice on how to best prepare against the common risks associated with cybersecurity.

Following the rise of smartphones, apps offering convenient payment methods have been created. Venmo, CashApp and GooglePay are some examples. What are the safety concerns associated with using these mobile-pay apps?

I actually don’t have any safety concerns. These apps are made to help you purchase things. It’s as safe as using your credit or debit card in the store. … It’s part of how we transact business. Thankfully, the bank and financial industries are really good at watching us and protecting us in our transactions.

How concerned should people be about using Wi-Fi in public places like coffee shops, airports and hotels? What steps should people take to safeguard themselves from hackers?

Let’s be honest about this: Wi-Fi is not safe to use. That’s the best mindset you can have. If you’re at Starbucks or a hotel, don’t do anything important on the Wi-Fi. Don’t access your bank, don’t access anything you wouldn’t stand up in a public place and say, “This is my name and password.” Never use Wi-Fi at a hotel. If you have a lifestyle that requires you to use public Wi-Fi a lot, you can use a VPN service. These are not expensive, maybe $5 per month. So, if you’re forced to use public Wi-Fi, use a VPN service; otherwise, don’t use the Wi-Fi for anything serious.

Online shopping is popular and could become more necessary in the future. What are the dangers for consumers when it comes to using credit and debit cards online?

It’s an interesting question. There’s a generational effect. If you go back, in the generation from before me, no one is comfortable with that. My daughter, who is in high school, would buy anything anywhere online and not think twice about it. The best advice I can give you is to get a low limit credit card and tie that to your online shopping. There’s a lot of built-in insurances with credit cards. Don’t use your debit card for online shopping. Your bank probably has your back, but it is not legally required to.

Why is PayPal a safer online payment method than credit cards?

PayPal is a third-party intermediary between myself (as) the consumer and the business. It is actually more oriented toward the consumer than the businesses are. If I’m not happy or feel I’ve been ripped off, they will take my side almost immediately. If you have an Etsy account and I like this item you made, I use my PayPal account. You’re transacting with PayPal, and I’m transacting with PayPal. You’re not seeing my information.

There are a lot of emails that seem to come from fake companies or organizations. What are the things people can do to be certain that such emails are legitimate?

Internet phishing is something that bad people do to try to convince you to participate. It’s the very old con man job. I’m trying to get you to believe I’m your student loan company, your bank or someone who you trust. My goal is to get you to click on a link.

The link may take you to a site that looks legit, but I can get your username and password. Be a little paranoid: If you get an email that translates in your brain as being too good to be true, it is. It’s equivalent to a stranger walking up to you and saying, “Take my hand, follow me.” Your response would be, “No!” Don’t click links you don’t know. If you get an email, have it in your mind, “What if someone said these words to me?” If it feels weird, then it’s weird.

Jim Burkman
Jim Burkman offers advice on protecting ourselves as the nation’s reliance on the use of smartphones and online shopping continues to grow.

Social media networks contain users’ personal information. How can users know if the social media network they are using is safe?

Is your social media safe? It’s not, and why would you ever think that it was? This is another generational shift. My teenage daughter shares way more information than my parents would have ever thought to. We need to increase our technological literacy. All of our data is out there. This isn’t going to change.

Is it safe to store your personal data online?

It’s a brilliant idea to store your data online. I am not a Dropbox user because Dropbox can see everything I give them. I use because it encrypts everything as it leaves my device. The fact that Dropbox can see my stuff is probably not a huge concern, but I feel better knowing that my stuff is my stuff all the way through.

What risks are associated with traveling? What should people be more aware of during times of travel?

When you’re traveling, the smartest thing to do is to think about your phone as a 6-month-old puppy: Everything goes in their mouths. If you plug your phone from a cable into a USB port, that port can deliver data and take data off your phone. So, as you’re traveling, if you need to charge your phone, make sure you’re taking it from the cord to your phone, to your charger, to an electrical outlet. It’s known as thumb-sucking. It’s easy for me to walk up to any table in the airport and place a small device under it so you see only the USB port, but it will pull all the data off your mobile device. So, never plug your phone into a USB port, and always bring your own charger.

What makes a strong and safe password?

Passwords are the key to your life. First, your email account should have its own password that you don’t use for anything else. Have at least two passwords, one for your email and one for everything else. Second, you need a pretty good complex password. Pick a song, a phrase, whatever you will remember and take the first letter of each word and convert the words by using numbers. Think of what you could do with “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” Use “H2o” for water. If you relate your password to anything in your life and you have social media accounts where you talk about your life, you’re going to get hacked.