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Future Crimes by Marc Goodman

Les Fleurs du Malware: Five Pitfalls of the Information AgeIt won’t surprise many people to read that computers, networks, and personal information are under constant attack. Most of us install a commonly available anti-virus program, mind our clicks (mostly), and hope for the best. More than that seems like work, and stories of data theft have become so ubiquitous that a certain amount of desensitization is probably inevitable. Well, Goodman’s Future Crimes should take care of that. When your C.V. includes titles like "futurist-in-residence with the FBI," you’ve seen the rats in the internet pipes, and it’s harrowing; his litany of cyber criminals and their multitudinous misdeeds are often shocking in their inventiveness and audacity, and Goodman brings the nightmares one after another at an almost breathless pace. But not all is hopeless–Goodman aims to educate, offering from high-level policy to practical layman’s advice for buttoning down your own data. Despite the scare factor, it’s a fun, fast, and fascinating 400 pages. My only quibble is with the title, which implies a coming threat. The threat is here, and the future is now. We asked Goodman for five insidious threats of the Information Age.

Future Crimes is a selection for’s Best Books of the Month for March 2015.

Modern Times Bring Modern Crimes: Five dangers of the digital age that you probably don’t know about

by Marc Goodman

1. Who’s in Charge?: Your smart-phone is almost out of power and you’re miles away from home. Like a watering hole in the desert, a free charging kiosk appears in the middle of the airport, shopping mall or office lobby—exactly what your battery-starved phone needs. Think again. The mere plugging in of your phone into a compromised USB charger can infect your phone with malware and allow hackers to read texts, steal banking information, capture account passwords, and track the movements of the phone’s owner. The phenomenon is known as "juice jacking," and these rogue chargers can be built for under $50 and are often planted in heavily-trafficked public spaces. The good news is you don’t have to wait until you get home to recharge. Instead just carry a small portable battery pack. You can also purchase a special USB adapter which sits in between your phone and the charger and blocks the data ports standard in USB, thereby preventing risk of infection.

2. Mind the App: Just days after the original Android Marketplace app store launched, thousands of people happily downloaded their bank’s new Android apps. After entering their account numbers and passwords, the apps failed to work as promised leading angry customers to call their banks. When they reached customer service, the banks advised "we don’t have an Android app." Whoops! In turned out, criminals had created and uploaded fake banking apps—designed with the bank’s own logos in order to to extract sensitive financial information. Many apps stores, particularly third-party sites, are essentially the Wild West. In fact, by 2013, more than 42,000 apps—many of them targeted at children who think they’re simply downloading a free game—in Google’s Play store had been found to contain spyware and information-stealing Trojan programs. Pay close attention to the apps you and your family download, particularly their permission settings. They are generally "free" for a reason and you’re paying with your privacy—or worse. If a flashlight app tells you it needs access to your location and contacts, run the other way!

3. Would You Like Malware with Your Coffee?: Free WiFi at the local coffee shop is great—too bad it can give everybody else in the shop access to your computer. As you sit there sipping your overpriced latte and cruising the public WiFi, all other users on the network can see what you are doing, from your iTunes playlists to the sites you visit. There are even free browser plugins that allow anyone on the network to take over your Facebook session, view all your personal information, change your account settings, and post anything he or she wants on your wall or in messages to other users. Be wary of WiFi networks that allow you to log on without any password verification and always encrypt your Internet traffic by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using a public network such as those at airports, universities and coffee shops—frequent targets for hackers and thieves.

4. Eye Spy: We’ve seen it on TV. A master hacker hijacks a computer and turns on the camera to record the unsuspecting owner’s every move. But with the latest spyware—computer software programs that hack your life—it’s easy for even a total novice to get access to all the Internet-connected cameras in your life, whether on your computer, smart-phone, tablet or even baby monitor. One "iPad monitor" product includes a "stealth camera" mode that allows third parties to remotely activate and monitor your camera in real time and store any photographs or videos they choose to record from your device on a central server for later download. Welcome to the scary world of Point-and-Click espionage, but luckily there’s an easy fix. Cover-up your camera lenses when not in use. A simple Post-It note, Band-Aid or piece of electrical tape will provide cheap protection from prying eyes.

5. In the old days, if a burglar wanted to target a particular home, he would look for the telltale signs that the residents were away on vacation: a pile of newspapers in front of the home or a porch light that remained off at night. But even common thieves have modernized their tools—and you’re making it even easier for them! How many of you have casually mentioned on Facebook that you were going on vacation? Or tweeted about how much you’re looking forward to a family trip to Disney World? What you may not realize is that criminals are perfectly capable of scraping this data off of the Internet and using it for their own purposes. According to a 2013 study of convicted burglars in the UK, 78% of them admitted monitoring Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare before targeting a specific home to rob. To highlight this threat, a group of Dutch computer developers created a website called There they aggregated locational data about people’s Tweets and Foursquare check-ins and created a searchable database of the information collected. The result: would-be burglars could check by postal code and see who was away and for how long, effortlessly pinpointing a home that was ideal for breaking and entering. So think before you share your vacation plans on social networks—the Zuckerbandits are listening and you could end up returning to a ransacked and pillaged home.

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Les Fleurs du Malware: Five Pitfalls of the Information Age
Future Crimes
Marc Goodman

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