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Editorial: Protect computer, mobile devices

Technology has improved the ways people communicate and get information, but it’s also opened new possibilities for those who would take advantage of others.

One such sinister opportunity involves a phone scam in which the caller claims to be from Microsoft, according to an alert to consumers by the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau (BBB). The caller offers to solve a consumer’s computer problems, or sell him or her a software license, all in an effort to gain remote control access to the consumer’s computer.

Business owners have reported getting calls from someone who claims to be a “Microsoft employee,” and who told the owners their computers were infected with a virus and were sending out spam. A woman who got a similar call and happens to work with computers on a daily basis realized almost immediately the directions the caller was giving were the same steps she follows when her IT department needs full, remote access to her computer. She didn’t allow the caller to proceed any further.

Microsoft says, once these scammers have access to the computer, they can install malicious software, steal personal information, take control of the computer remotely or direct consumers to fraudulent websites where they are asked to enter their credit card information. Microsoft’s Online Safety and Security Center states neither Microsoft nor its partners make unsolicited phone calls.

BBB advises consumers follow these tips to protect themselves from scammers attempting to access their computer:

—Go through the service provider directly. If concerned the computer may be exposed to viruses or other security threats, contact the service provider directly. Some providers offer free tools that can help detect and remove viruses.

—Install virus detection. To help protect the computer from viruses, make sure virus detection software has been installed on the computer. This software can also help identify if a virus appears on the computer.

—Don’t trust cold calls. Never give out personal information, over the phone, to someone unknown. If the caller claims there’s a security threat to the computer, hang up and call the computer company directly.

—Find a computer repair company that can be trusted.

Meantime, privacy may be at risk for users of smartphones and tablets. So the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is asking consumers to take control of how they use personal data online.

One new type of security concern for mobile devices is in their use of GPS information for many applications. “Geotagging” involves the addition of GPS data to the underlying file information for a digital image. Smartphones with GPS capabilities are often preset to add this data to any image taken from the unit. This data could allow a stalker to track someone’s movement as images are taken and posted to the internet.

A quick online search will provide directions on cancelling geotagging on any of the major smartphone platforms. If wishing to continue using location-based services on the phone apart from the camera application, the geotagging feature may be able to be disabled through the camera tool’s menu.

Here are some tips for using mobile devices safely:

—Keep software up to date. Updating smartphone and tablet operating systems and applications can patch holes that hackers can use to access the system.

—For passwords, mix letters, numbers and special characters to create ones at least 10 characters long. For added security, set the device to require regular password unlocks.

—Use caution on public networks. If using a public Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to personal accounts on a mobile device, limit the type of business conducted and set the device to hide password character entries.

—Always keep the phone in a secure location. Smartphones and tablets contain a wealth of personal information like contacts, messages and schedules. Know where the phone is at all times and keep it locked away in public.