Archive for December, 2011

Hack-proof your passwords

Criminals are getting smarter. So should you.

Consumer Reports Magazine: January 2012

Illustration by: Stuart Bradford

More than half of U.S. adults have six or more password-protected accounts online, our latest survey shows. Who can remember the passwords? You try by keeping them short and sweet: your pet’s name and “123.” You use the same one for multiple accounts. And you keep them in your wallet for easy access.

You’re not alone. In our survey, 32 percent of respondents used a personal reference in their passwords, almost 20 percent used the same password for more than five accounts, and 23 percent kept a written list of passwords in an insecure place. The national survey of 1,000 adults was conducted in October by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Trouble is, such practices expose you to the kinds of attacks that today’s hackers have been launching against websites. When hackers get your passwords, they gain access to your accounts.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Read on to learn the best and worst types of passwords, how to create strong ones, where to store them for safekeeping, and—better yet—how to remember them.

A growing threat

Your chances of having a password stolen on a given day are probably slim, but the risk is real and growing. To understand why, you need to know how today’s hacker works. No, he doesn’t sit in a basement, attempting to sign into your account by pounding away at a keyboard until he stumbles upon your password. Most likely, he breaks into an insecure website that has many passwords on file, including yours. Then he finds out many of those passwords using highly sophisticated password-cracking software and a souped-up computer. Here are some of the most troubling developments we’ve discovered:

 

Tis the Season

Tis the season to be cheerful, jolly and in the holiday spirit but it’s hard to be cheerful when you come home and find your home burglarized. Drawers emptied, missing electronics, jewelry, money, all your belongings gone and your house ransacked.

The poor economy has resulted in an increase of burglaries. Not a day goes by where we don’t have at least 5 or more victims calling in to report a burglary at their home. Sometimes we get dispatched to a burglary in progress but for every burglar we catch there are hundreds more roaming neighborhoods looking for a target. If you read the crime stats burglaries are on the rise and are a problem everywhere.

How they decide on a particular home is each burglar’s decision but most of the time they are not alone. One of them will ring a doorbell and if someone answers, they ask for a fictitious person or say they have the wrong house. If no one answers, they go into the yard looking for an open or unlocked window. Sometimes they will break a window to gain access but most of the time they find a window or door unlocked. Once inside they ransack your home looking for money, jewelry, laptops, guns and other easily concealable items. Sometimes they will take a pillowslip off your bed to carry their haul. If they find keys to a car in the garage they may help themselves to your televisions, computers and other larger items and simply drive off with their loot.

You come home to relax after a hard day at work only to find your home ransacked with your belongings scattered throughout the house and your personal property missing, some of it probably irreplaceable. Not a fun evening cleaning up the mess, trying to do an inventory of what’s missing for the police, and trying to get over the feeling of being violated knowing someone was roaming free in your home going through all your belongings.

There are a few things you can do to lessen your chances of becoming the victim of a burglary:

1) Get an alarm system. There are several companies that offer free or low cost installation of an alarm system by signing a 2-3 year contract for alarm monitoring. If an alarm activates, the monitoring service calls you or a designated person and then the police. You can get door and window sensors, motion detectors, smoke detectors, whatever you want. Alarm systems are great because a burglar won’t stick around long with loud alarms blaring drawing attention to your home. If you have an alarm system, USE IT! I’ve gone to alarm calls where a home was burglarized and when I ask about the alarm panel on the wall, the victim said they were only leaving for a short time and didn’t use it. It only takes the push of a button to arm the system, if you have it, use it!

2) Get a camera system. These are great! The cost has come way down on these systems. You can put small motion activated cameras inside or outside your home and when they sense movement they began recording to your PC or hard drive. They can even send pictures to your cell phone of what is being recorded. We’ve caught burglars in the act after homeowners called the police and gave a description of the suspects after their camera system sent pictures to their cell phone. Even if a burglar gets away, they are recorded and we know who to look for.

3) Dogs are great. Very few burglars will break into a home where a dog is going ballistic on the other side of the door. A timid miniature Chihuahua probably won’t deter a burglar but a larger dog certainly will.

4) Alert neighbors. If you have neighbors that are home during the day, ask them to keep an eye on things and to call you if they see something unusual. If a burglar sees someone watching them they are less likely to stick around.

5) Most importantly; DON’T leave windows or doors unlocked. If you must leave a window open for ventilation, get a window lock that will let you lock the window ajar a few inches. Burglars can squeeze through even small bathroom windows, don’t leave them open. If a burglar sees an open window it makes you a target. Lock the door leading from the garage into the house; if it has a lock, use it. If a door has a cheap lock on it get a good one with a deadbolt. It’s not a guarantee to prevent a burglary but make it as difficult as possible for a burglar to gain entry. It could make the difference between them getting into your home or giving up to find an easier target.

6) Lights. If you will be gone in the evening or during the night, light up your home. Leave porch lights on and a light or two inside. Burglars hate lights. You can get motion spotlights that come on when they sense movement. Get bright spotlights to light up your doors, windows or yard if someone comes on your property and when the motion stops, the lights go off. If your home is dark inside and outside, burglars can approach and get in undetected but if they walk up to a home and the night turns into day, they won’t stick around long.

7) Christmas time brings out even more thieves. Nothing looks more tempting than a ton of wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree. When you are gone, close the blinds or drapes and don’t give thieves a sneak peek of goodies inside. The same goes for your car; don’t leave bags from stores or wrapped presents in your car. We get numerous reports of gifts being stolen from cars while people are shopping or if items were left in a car overnight. Lock items in the trunk or at least cover them so they are not in view.

8 ) Report any suspicious activity. If someone unfamiliar to your neighborhood comes to your door asking for someone who doesn’t live there, make a note of their description(s) and vehicle and call the police to report a suspicious subject. You may end up preventing a burglary in your neighborhood or helping the police catch a burglar with a car full of stolen property.

There are other precautions you can take but these are some of the important ones. If you use some of the above listed tips, you will greatly reduce the chances of finding your home ransacked when you come home.

What you need to know about “The System”:

The Pro’s:

What I’m going to discuss here is the “Pro’s and Con’s” of the system.

The Pro’s would normally cover the prosecution or rather the good guys. The Con’s would normally describe the bad guys, the inmates, and the convicts. Unfortunately the roles can sometimes get interwoven and it can be difficult to figure out who’s who.

As stated before, I cannot possibly comment on the criminal justice systems outside of California. In fact, I can really only comment on the systems that are near the area that I work in. But most criminal justice systems consist of the same players. A criminal case going before the court system can almost be compared to a football game.

· The head referee is the “Judge”.

· The other referee’s and officials are the jury.

· The coach of the home team is the district attorney or their representative, the deputy D.A.

· The players on the home team are the victims of the case, witnesses, and the cops.

· The coach of the visiting team is the defense attorney or public defender.

· The players on the visiting team are the defendants in the case.

What occurs in the courtroom is just like what you watch on Sunday Football games.

There are good plays made, bad plays made cheap shots, dirty play, incredible strategies, and every now and then a “Hail-Mary” that can win the game.

Keep in mind how the coach of the team keeps his job. By winning games! The coach of a losing team isn’t going to benefit in the area of job longevity. On a similar note the district attorney is an elected official. The D.A is evaluated by the county government and by the voters, as to the number of “wins” the office scores. The DA is voted into office by YOU the voting public and that in itself gives you more power than you could possibly imagine. That gives YOU the power to decide who is going to coach your team.

Speaking along those lines, you as a defendant also have the power to control who represents you in your case. An attorney with a poor track record of winning cases isn’t going to be your first choice. A public defender with a non-caring or burnt out attitude that was assigned to you because you have no funds, is not going to help your case very much.

I’m not going to address private attorneys or public defenders here because as we all know there is no drastic shortage of them. The person I’m going to address is the one responsible for sending bad people to jail. The coach of your team. The DA.

Before I got into law enforcement I paid little, if any attention to the people who were running for the office of district attorney. I had the mindset that the person in office was probably doing a good job and that they would have the best experience and background for doing the job because they’ve already been doing it. If you share that line of thinking as I did, you will need to change that thought!

The wrong person in the wrong office can make all the difference in the world as to how criminal prosecutions are handled in your county! Good, bad, or indifferent.

There are district attorneys that do an outstanding job. They have a “Zero Tolerance” approach to the job and I respect their outlook towards their objectives. If someone is guilty of a crime they charge for that crime and go after it. One hundred percent! Their passion is going after someone that wronged someone else, and their motivation is to do “what’s right”.

The case has to be correctly presented to the DA’s office for prosecution, and any deficiencies on the part of the police are evaluated. If it’s a solid case they take it. If there were mistakes made they immediately say “Hey, you guys blew this one, our hands are tied. Learn from it and bring us a solid case next time.”

No Bull crap. Right to the point. They aren’t going to waste taxpayers money in court by going after a weak case hoping for a “plea bargain” that will give them a “win” on paper.

On the opposite side of the coin, there are some DA’s that demonstrate questionable motives and ethics. These traits and expectations are passed down to the “Deputy DA’s” in the courtroom. Win cases at any expense and make me look good, or you won’t be employed in this office very long. It’s all about winning cases and having a good track record on paper.

They get to the point where they don’t really care what the particulars of the case are, or who got victimized. They only care about the end result on paper. The “stats” at the end of the year. The ammunition that they can take out to the voters by means of saying “Hey, I’ve got a 99 percent closure rate of guilty verdicts and I’m doing a great job for you!”

What you need to know, is how many of those serious “felony” cases were reduced down to a petty “misdemeanor” on a plea bargain. A reduction that will result in little or no jail time for the defendant. A reduction that will usually result in the defendant getting “probation” that he or she will violate in the next month or two.

The problem with this, is that the bad guy goes out and commits a felony with the mindset “No big deal if I get busted, I’ll “cop a plea” and get a slap on the wrist.” And the bad guy is right! And the bad guy tells his friends, and those friends tell other friends, and soon you have a whole lot of people running around with NO incentive to not commit serious crimes because they have learned how to “work the system.”

I’m not going to name names, but I’ll say this. I have worked with a number of outstanding deputy district attorneys who make me proud to be in law enforcement. They are a total credit to their profession and to you the taxpayers. They have been around the block a time or two and they believe in standing up for right over wrong, even if it goes beyond the political aspirations of their boss, the “head coach”.

I will always remember one of the first deputy DA’s that I worked with on a court case. He called me several days before the court date to discuss the case. On the date of the preliminary hearing he called me in an hour early to again discuss the case. During the preliminary hearing the case was so strong that the public defender offered the deputy DA a “plea”. Her defendant would plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation with credit for “time served” (no jail time) and limited terms of probation.

BEWARE OF SPAM!

BEWARE OF SPAM!
BOGUS DELIVERY MESSAGES E-MAILED TO POSTAL CUSTOMERS

Some postal customers are receiving bogus e-mails about a package delivery. The e-mails
contain a link that, when opened, installs a malicious virus that can steal personal information
from your PC.

The e-mails claim to be from the U.S. Postal Service and contain fraudulent information about an
attempted or intercepted package delivery. You are instructed to click on a link to find out when
you can expect your delivery. But Postal Inspectors warn:

Do not click on the link!

Like most viruses sent by e-mail, clicking on the link will activate a virus that can steal
information—such as your user name, password, and financial account information.

What to do? Simply delete the message without taking any further action. The Postal Inspection
Service is working hard to resolve the issue and shut down the malicious program.

If you have questions about a delivery or wish to report spam, please call 1-800-ASK-USPS.