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Forum offers tips to avoid being hacked

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A presentation is given by Dr. Charles J. Lesko Jr. of the ECU College of Engineering and Technology about computer viruses and hacking software at the ECU Physicians Family Medicine Center on Tuesday.


By Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What is hacking and how can it be avoided?

These two questions were among many addressed on Tuesday at a public forum titled “You Have Been Hacked!” featuring Charles J. Lesko Jr., director of graduate studies in the ECU College of Engineering and Technology.

Approximately 20 people attended the 90-minute presentation, which was sponsored by the ECU Retired Faculty Association and held in the second floor classroom of the ECU Physicians Family Medicine Center.

“Hacking” refers to the act of someone gaining unauthorized access into a computer or network, Lesko said.

“Anything that’s got digital capability nowadays has the ability for someone to — in some way, shape or form — alter,” he said. “That’s the age that we’re living in now.” 

There are many nefarious reasons for hacking, but the primary one is to get your money, Lasko said.

He offered practical advice on what people can do to protect data on their personal computers.

■ Never respond to a request from any organization or a business that sends an email asking you for your user ID and password, Lesko said.

“That’s an immediate delete,” he said. “Unless you trust (something) explicitly, don’t (click on it).”

■ Know the difference between “http” and “https,” letters that appear in the address of a website, Lesko said. The “s” indicates that the website connection is secure.

■ Regarding passwords, it is best to have ones that are complex and secure, Lesko said. People tend to use simple passwords, even as simple as “password” and “pa$$word,” because they are easy to remember. But they are also easy for hackers to break into.

Lesko recommended using a “password manager” tool that allows computer users to have a range of secure and complex passwords without their having to remember a thing. He also recommended installing antivirus programs, not only on computers but on mobile phones which are also susceptible to hacking. 

Another way to keep data safe is to use the services of a virtual private network (VPN), Lesko said.

“(It’s) a way to secure your online activity by routing your traffic through their servers,” he said.

■ People should not keep their financial and other personal information, such as bank accounts, utility accounts, credit cards, taxes, loans, leases, insurance, securities and medical accounts, on their computers, Lesko said.

“(That’s) like leaving all your precious belongings on your front lawn,” he said.

Lesko recommended that people periodically copy personal data onto a terabyte external hard drive and store it in a safety deposit box at the bank.

■ People who use free, public Wi-Fi are at risk of being hacked, Lasko said. “Don’t do your banking at a cafe.” 

The wireless routers that people install at home also are vulnerable to hacking, he said. 

“People get them and plug them in and use ‘password’ for their password,” he said.

Lesko warned the group about “phishing,” which occurs when a scammer sends out a fraudulent email to see if someone will bite.

Phishing emails are often sent from addresses that look official, said Lesko. Signs of phishing include fake sender domains, suspicious subject and content and bad grammar or poor English, he said.

Lesko recommended three websites that people can visit to learn more about hacking and how to prevent it: lockdownyourlogin.org, staysafeonline.org and identitytheft.gov.

Vincent Bellis, a retired biology professor at ECU attended the forum and said he was surprised at the extent of hacking that occurs.

Rudy Alexander, retired ECU assistant vice chancellor for student life, described the session as “excellent.”

“I think it something all of us can profit from by being here and I’m certainly glad I came,” he said. 

The forum drew participants from the general public as well.

“I wouldn’t miss these,” said Tom Williams, retired from a 30-year career in the Navy, about the retired faculty association forums presented throughout the year.

Tuesday’s session was the last one in the associations’s 2018-19 series, according to  Tinsley Yarbrough, retired ECU political science professor and organizer of the event.

For more information about the ECU Retired Faculty Association visit http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/ecurfa/?mod=320

Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or at keckert@reflector.com.