HELENA – Today, Attorney General Tim Fox cautioned Montanans that cyber actors are ready to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by exploiting increased usage of virtual environments.
As more Montanans telework and attend school on-line, Fox says it's important to be aware of telework software vulnerabilities, education technology platforms, trending schemes and scams cyber actors intend to exploit. "Cyber scammers focus on all areas of consumer vulnerability in an attempt to capitalize on the fear and rapidly changing developments being provided from state and federal leaders," Attorney General Tim Fox said. "It's important that during these uncertain times, Montanans remain vigilant by using a common sense approach with online telework, education, and government interactions," Fox added.
As an example, Fox cited a Columbia Falls City Council meeting conducted via Zoom on April 6 that was repeatedly disrupted by hackers. Fox offered the following tips to protect Montanans from cyber actors:
Strong passwords and encryption are the best ways to secure your home network. Change your default administrator password before a hacker discovers the manufacturer's default, and use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption.
Take extra precaution to avoid spoofed or phony websites by only visiting websites with clearly distinguishable URL addresses. Scammers seek to exploit individuals by directing web traffic to similar, but falsely identified website names where they can provide misinformation or attempt to gain consumers' personal information or finances in exchange for pandemic updates.
Be on the lookout for emails asking for the verification of personal data, including Medicare or Medicaid information, in exchange for receiving Economic Impact Payment checks or other benefits from the government. Government agencies are NOT sending out emails asking for residents' personal information in order to receive funds or other pandemic relief opportunities.
Be wary of all emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other healthcare organizations, offering to share information about the virus. Don't open attachments or click on links within these emails, as scammers are using phony COVID-19 tracking websites to infect electronic devices with malware, putting people at risk for identity theft and financial exploitation.
Last fall, Attorney General Tim Fox announced the hiring of the Montana Department of Justice's first cybercrime agent. The 2019 Legislature authorized the additional position for the department's Division of Criminal Investigation. The new agent works with local law enforcement, the FBI, and Fox's Office of Consumer Protection to protect Montana citizens from cybercrime.
If you are the victim of an internet scam or cyber crime, or want to report suspicious activity, call local law enforcement, the Montana Office of Consumer Protection at (800) 481-6896 or (406) 444-4500 or use OCP's convenient online reporting form. You may also visit the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
For more cyber crime prevention information, see this tip sheet from the Montana Department of Justice, or this PSA from the FBI.