When geeks gave us the Internet and the means to use it, they
also gave us a new segment of vocabulary ...
I've often thought it a shame that a few of them didn't make
their way to a campus literature or marketing department and see
if a student of poetry or sizzle could assist them in assigning
names to their innovations. For example, did the manual cursor
operator have to be called a 'mouse?'
Geeks have overtaken sports-speakers when it comes to coining
bad phrases. I've never understood why basketball types say a
player 'kicks out' a ball to a teammate on the perimeter when
his feet never touch it. Worse yet, I've always wondered if a
gridiron football player would really want to dive on the ball
if the carrier truly 'coughed it up!' That bit of literal
imagery is more revulsive than handling a mouse. Do these guys
really think about what they're saying?
There is one instance, though, where the geeks thought it
through and got it right. 'Phishing' is a perfect connotation
for cyber-cons who troll for prey.
The word's spelling distinguishes this nefarious activity from a
sporting endeavor, but it's still a game. The definition that's
been developed for it is "a technique used to gain personal
information for purposes of identity theft, using fraudulent
e-mail messages that appear to come from legitimate businesses.
These authentic-looking messages are designed to fool recipients
into divulging personal data such as account numbers and
passwords, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers."
Another term that alludes to the emotive consequences of
cyberobbery is the perjorative sense of 'hacker.' That bit of
etymology seems to be a work in progress. The accepted
definition refers to "individuals who gain unauthorized access
to computer systems for the purpose of stealing and corrupting
data." However, the added qualifier is, "Hackers, themselves,
maintain that the proper term for such individuals is cracker."
Being hacked or being cracked makes little difference to those
on the receiving end. They just know they've been had.
Understandably, their first impulses are to get mad and want to
vent. My contention is that, most of the time, they're lashing
out in the wrong direction. After all, crooks are crooks; that's
their job and they're out there in numbers. That's not going to
change anytime soon.
These victims need to take a hard look at themselves.
The economics of law enforcement --- in cyberspace or elsewhere
--- limits what can be investigated and prosecuted. Thus, smart
spoofers often keep their 'take' per scam campaign at levels
sufficiently low that the cost of prosecuting them is not
viable. Then, they change their coordinates, plus their
identities, and do it again.
So, obviously, the most important factor in cyber-diligence is
self-precaution. Most steps are basic, as evidenced by the
checklist on the USA government's Federal Trade Commission
"If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or
financial information, do not reply. And don't click on the link
in the message, either. Legitimate companies don't ask for this
information via email. If you are concerned about your account,
contact the organization mentioned in the email using a
telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet
browser session and type in the company's correct Web address
yourself. In any case, don't cut and paste the link from the
message into your Internet browser -- phishers can make links
look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a
"Use anti-virus software and a firewall, and keep them up to
date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your
computer or track your activities on the Internet without your
"Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from
inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Anti-virus software
scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for
anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses as well as
older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and that
"A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks
all communications from unauthorized sources. It's especially
important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection.
Operating systems (like Windows or Linux) or browsers (like
Internet Explorer or Netscape) also may offer free software
'patches' to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers
"Don't email personal or financial information. Email is not a
secure method of transmitting personal information. If you
initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or
financial information through an organization's website, look
for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the
browser's status bar or a URL for a website that begins 'https:'
(the 's' stands for 'secure'). Unfortunately, no indicator is
foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
"Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you
receive them to check for unauthorized charges. If your
statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your
credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and
"Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any
files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
These files can contain viruses or other software that can
weaken your computer's security.
"Forward spam that is phishing for information to firstname.lastname@example.org
and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the
phishing email. Most organizations have information on their
websites about where to report problems.
"If you believe you've been scammed, file your complaint at
ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft website at
Victims of phishing can become victims
of identity theft. While you can't entirely control whether you
will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps
to minimize your risk. If an identity thief is opening credit
accounts in your name, these new accounts are likely to show up
on your credit report. You may catch an incident early if you
order a free copy of your credit report periodically from any of
the three major credit bureaus."
If you use e-currency or e-payment services, be aware that they
are usually not liable for any of your losses if you've been
hacked or cracked due to identity-theft issues. All reputable
services have support divisions that investigate any complaints
of spoofing --- for example, Paypal asks you to mail them at
if you receive a suspicious message using their
name --- and if anyone is going to pursue, or at least keep on
file, complaints of any amount, it will be them.
Virtually all e-currency services offer options of 'virtual'
keyboards for logging in to accounts. They may be a bother, but
they are very effective at adding a formidable obstacle for
cyber-invasion. Then, whether or not you took this step to
access your account, make sure you take the time to actually log
out of your account, as opposed to merely clicking away to your
I note that the Longer Life site has two very good preventive
products as sponsors, Kaspersky Labs and Identity Guard. They
are first-class products and well worth your while to consider.
This stuff doesn't take long to research or to implement and you
don't have to be a geek to do it. You don't even have to know
their their terminology. Instead, when you're done, you can
confidently refer to a familiar term in both sports and banking: