Afraid of cyber-crimes?

Worried about being caught in an online “phishing” expedition? Concerned about malware? Identity theft in cyberspace?

The N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs recently unveiled a new Cyber Security Handbook as part of its effort “to empower consumers with the information and awareness necessary to protect themselves against fraud.”

According to the DCA: “The Cyber Security Handbook includes information on protecting everything that is potentially exposed to the Internet. This includes computers, smartphones and other devices; personal information and privacy; and consumers’ own personal safety as well as that of their families.”

The handbook can be viewed online at

Chapter topics include: “Viruses, Phishing and Identity Theft”; “Ads, Apps and Your Personal Privacy”; and “Online Predators and Cyberbullies.”

One example from Chapter 1 describes how “criminals combine plain old psychological trickery with malware-creation skills — a combination referred to as ‘social engineering’.”

Quoting Kevin Mitnick, a former hacker-turned-security consultant, the handbook explains, for instance, that a hacker may learn your likes and dislikes from posts on Facebook. “If I know you love Angry Birds [a popular smartphone game], maybe I would send you an email purporting to be from Angry Birds with a new pro version.

“Once you download it, I would have complete access to everything on your phone,” Mitnick says.

Other topics covered in the handbook include common strategies by which computer criminals can persuade victims to unwittingly open themselves up to identity theft; protection against malware; protecting your personal information when using web browsers and mobile devices; and awareness of online predators (including those who prey on children and teens) and cyberbullying.

But as technology evolves, so do cybercriminals’ tactics.

Thus, the DCA notes: “Although the basic information about personal protection stays the same, specific facts may change as the Internet rapidly changes. For that reason, the booklet concludes with a list of online resources that provide regularly updated consumer-friendly information.”

N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa noted that identity theft is considered the fastest-growing financial crime, and identity thieves often steal their victims’ personal data through computer-based methods such as phishing or by infecting computers with spyware.

Online privacy is another growing concern. In June 2012, the N.J. DCA filed its first-ever lawsuit under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) against a Los Angeles-based developer of children’s apps for devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

The state alleged that the company’s educational apps violated COPPA “by collecting personal information from its young users, then transmitting that information to a third party without parental notification or consent.”

In its settlement with the state, the company agreed to cease such practices and to ensure the destruction of all data that had been provided to third parties, the DCA reported.

But, one should note, that was just one company.

“As aggressive and unflagging as we are in our role of enforcing the laws that protect New Jersey’s consumers against fraud and abusive practices, we are just as committed to help consumers protect themselves through education and awareness,” Chiesa stated.

Check out the new Cyber Security Handbook. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.

– Karen Zautyk

The Observer Staff