Airline Miles, Appliances, Even Security Systems Hacked

Tech writer Dan Rosenbaum made airline reservations to Las Vegas months in advance of an important conference. Eleven days before his scheduled departure, he logged into his United Airlines account and found that his Vegas trip had been canceled. In its place were two other reservations, in other people’s names, booked with 125,000 of his airline miles.

Rosenbaum had been hacked. In a Yahoo article he detailed the steps he took to correct the problem, which was easy once he found the right person at United’s corporate security department. Rosenbaum wrote, “Security is a big deal for all companies that do commerce online. Even if it may not seem like it at first, there are people at the company who have the job of protecting you. You may have to do some legwork to find them, though.”

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Rosenbaum’s savior at United removed all erroneous information added to his account by the hackers, canceled the fraudulent reservations, restored his airline points, retrieved his Vegas reservation and canceled charges on his credit card. Credit card? Yep, he had a credit card linked to his account, and flight upgrades had been charged on the card.

The major financial loss to Rosenbaum would have been his airline miles. One of the flights was a roundtrip, first class ticket from Sydney to Beijing worth a considerable amount.

Rosenbaum’s hack was one that most tech users recognize as a threat — an item of value was stolen through the internet by accessing a website. But that’s not the only way people are victimized. Anything that has a chip in it can be hacked. Like your toaster or thermostat, baby monitor or light bulbs. In the rush to the Internet of Things — connecting our entire lives for convenience — we’re creating more vulnerabilities.

Home security systems that we rely upon to keep us safe can be compromised.

There have even been reports of spy chips appearing in consumer products that aren’t supposed to have chips. Stuff like irons and kettles. Why? Because those chips can access unsecure networks and infiltrate computer systems.

The good news? There are tangible steps you can take to keep you and your devices safe.

Protect Yourself

  1. When did you buy the wireless router in your home or apartment? It’s probably been years—most of us simply install it and forget it. But just as encryption is the future of security and safety across the internet, it’s the key to security in your own home. Upgrade to a new router that supports WPA2. And when you set it up, create a password with at least a dozen characters that combines upper case and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols.
  2. Never use free public Wi-Fi. The United security expert who assisted Rosenbaum after his hack told him that his use of free public Wi-Fi or a hotel Wi-Fi was the likely source of his troubles. It’s an often-repeated precaution, but with good reason. Unsecured Wi-Fi is easy pickings for identity thieves.

With a few safety precautions, you’ll be able to relax in your own home without worrying that your kitchen appliances are plotting against you!

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