Cyber criminals target college students with phishing, employment scams, ransomware

Originally published in Issue 14, Fifty-First Year of The Minstrel (May 4, 2017). 

Cyber criminals are increasingly targeting college students across the United States and DeSales students are no exception from phishing, employment offers and ransomware scams.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) reports that 72 percent of Americans believe their accounts are secure with only usernames and passwords, but every two seconds there is another victim of identity fraud.

The end goal for these criminals is to gain personal information such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, bank accounts and more. This personal information can then be sold for money on the Dark Web, which allows users to remain anonymous and untraceable from getting into legal trouble.

Besides money and personal information, .edu emails can be valuable in order to gain access or discounts to software and other products reserved for members of a university community, which is why technical school email addresses are most often the targets of attacks. However when broken down by state, the largest number of emails being sold on the Dark Web come from California, New York, Michigan, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Phishing

Phishing, the fraudulent practice of sending emails in order to gain personal information, is the most common type of scam at DeSales.

A lot of DeSales students have fallen for password reminder scams. One of these emails told students to renew their password by clicking a link that actually went to christmastourhouse.com.

According to Director of Information Technology Patricia Clay, it is very easy to fake the name that is seen on email addresses. A cyber criminal could easily make the email name read “Help Desk” or “DeSales” but if the address bar is hovered over, it will then read christmastourhouse.com or some other website not related to DeSales.

“We haven’t seen very sophisticated attacks, but in some of the more sophisticated attacks, it’ll pretend that it’s Bank of America and actually copy Bank of America’s logos and put it on their e-mails,” said Clay.

“It’s almost always a bad practice to click that link from an email if you’re not 100 percent sure that you should,” Clay added.

IT usually finds out about the scam through students reporting it or through monitoring.

Once IT is aware that students have responded to a phishing scam, the account is disabled and the password is changed. Then IT reaches out to the student whose account was comprised and has a conversation with them to find out what happened.

With company websites that have been compromised, criminals have lists of email addresses and can check which emails are still actively being used to login to websites. Criminals sell these emails and passwords on the Dark Web.

“They take that list of username and password combinations and they script that to go log in to different websites,” said Clay.

For example, if a criminal has a Yahoo username and password, they will then check that username and password on any other websites with logins such as Facebook or bank accounts.

Although awareness about phishing is increasing, victims keep falling for the scams.

“As long as phishing scams are still successful, they’ll keep doing it,” said Clay.

Employment scams

Job scams are an ongoing epidemic that received FBI attention in January 2017. Stop. Think. Connect., a global online safety campaign, sent the FBI’s warning on employment scams that target college students to DeSales IT.

The scammers pose as employers and send job postings to students about a remote job. Then they send the student a counterfeit check in the mail and tell the student to cash the check. With that cash, the student is asked to buy a money order and send it to a certain address.

Often times the check does not come up as fraudulent until the bank processes it and by then the student may have already lost money in sending the money order.

Earlier this year, a job scam occurred with someone named Susana Ozoria sending a job announcement email for a personal assistant through Bulldogs 4 Hire.

Assistant Director of the Career Development Center Melanie Vallone explains that the email came through Bulldogs 4 Hire (desales@csm. symplicity.com) because the employer created a fraudulent email address and posed as a legitimate company to create a Bulldogs 4 Hire account.

Vallone says three or four students received the check in the mail with one student coming very close to sending the money order. This incident was the first and only breach through Bulldogs 4 Hire.

“What makes it really tough is that we promote Bulldogs 4 Hire as a great way to post your resume—and safely—because it’s almost job search while you sleep. Employers can look if you’ve made your resume visible to employers,” said Vallone. “That’s when I work really hard to make sure employers are legitimate viable employers that are looking at our student resumes.”

Vallone calls up many local employers to make sure real people at their companies requested accounts on Bulldogs 4 Hire.

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), companies are increasingly becoming targets of scams as well with cyber criminals posing as company executives or the government and asking for W-2s, which contain Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and other personal identifiable information.

Ransomware

“Ransomware is where somebody tricks you into opening, usually a document or a file that has software in it, and what it does, is it encrypts files on whatever computers or computer you have access to,” said Clay.

After this occurs, a message pops up on the computer ordering the person to pay a certain amount of money in Bitcoins, an online currency, within a certain amount of time. The threat is made that if the deadline is not met, all the files will be permanently inaccessible.

This is when Clay hopes that the person regularly backs up their files and can ignore the ransomware. Unfortunately, some hospitals have paid the ransom in order to obtain access to patients’ records.

“I haven’t heard of cases where people pay the ransom and don’t get their files decrypted, but again, you’re dealing with a criminal,” said Clay, so someone could send the money and not get the files back.

DeSales did have a ransomware incident where a student received an email that looked like it was from their own personal account with a word document inside.

Ultimately, the cyber security industry hopes that artificial intelligence will aid in picking up suspicious emails.

Protection against scams

IT protects the network by keeping a good encryption between the systems students interact with. There are multiple levels of firewalls and segmented networks.

“I want the next generation of our students going out into the world and not be the people falling for phishing scams at their jobs,” said Clay.

She reiterates that students need to have a lot of skepticism. When students are not sure if emails are legitimate or not, students can forward emails to spam@desales.edu; however, “when in doubt, delete it,” said Clay.

If a password is compromised, be sure to make sure that password is not used for any other login or that site can be comprised as well.

Students should use a different password for everything and although that sounds like a difficult feat, free password-manager websites and apps, such as LastPass and 1Password, allows all of a student’s passwords to be stored in one place.

Strong authentication, also known as multi-factor or two- factor authentication, is a great tool to utilize as well. Many websites and apps offer this to protect accounts and ensure it’s the account owner, not criminals, accessing the account.

The three most common types of strong authentication are by using a security key (a small device, such as one that plugs into a USB port, to use when logging in), biometrics (such as fingerprints or cameras) and one-time codes (sent to you by a text or through an app to be entered into the website when logging in).

In the case of job searches, always be skeptical of offers that sound too good to be true. If the email says the recipient already has the job, when he or she never applied or was interviewed, the recipient should not respond. Many of the scammers are not native English speakers so look for poor grammar and spelling. Any companies asking for personal information are red flags as well.

Vallone suggests that when posting resumes on public sites like Indeed or LinkedIn to only list cities and states. Do not post full physical addresses online.

Overall, the more people become connected to the Internet, the more ways there are for scammers to find them so it is increasingly important to be skeptical and know how to protect personal information.

Gender isn’t just about women, feminism is equal rights for all

Originally published in the Humanities Newsletter 2017 edition.

The Gender Studies Club, better known as The Birkenstocks, was created at DeSales University in the spring of 2016.

“The goal is to talk about current topics that come up in the media and share opinions in an open space where there is no judgment,” said Jennifer Thuss, Birkenstocks president.

Currently, the club is all women, but members encourage men to join.

“It seems like an intimidating thing for guys to want to join because there’s this perception that gender means female, but that’s not true. Gender includes everyone,” said Dr. Katherine Grasso, the club’s advisor and communication professor. “So the more voices that we could have in these conversations, the more we could learn. And the more that we reflect on gender and what that means for each individual, the more I think we understand different experiences, and hopefully work on compassion, equality and justice in terms of gender issues.”

The club was formed after Grasso taught a gender communication course in fall of 2015.

“At the end of the semester, a handful of students, about five or six of them, said that they didn’t want the conversations to end so they asked if we could meet outside of class.”

The students were the catalyst of the club and Grasso happily agreed to be their advisor. The Birkenstocks meet every other Tuesday to discuss articles or documentaries on issues related to gender such as rape, sex, prostitution, transgendered issues, abortion, and stereotypes of men and women.

Birkenstocks

Some of the members of the Gender Studies Club. From left to right: Nadia Murray, Erin Grube, Jennifer Thuss, Lauren Trumbull, Kellie Dietrich and Dr. Katherine Grasso.

Earlier this year, members watched the documentary “Fantastic Lies” about the Duke lacrosse team who were falsely accused of gang rape.

“It was interesting because I thought they did it, and I felt bed after because I had the stereotype in my mind that they partied too hard. And the fact that they hired a prostitute made them look guilty even though they weren’t,” said Erin Grube, treasurer of Birkenstocks.

Articles and documentaries, which often break down stereotypes or offers new viewpoints such as “Fantastic Lies,” are picked by suggestions from Grasso or members of the club. Although the topics are heavy and members often have conflicting views, the club is always welcoming.

The atmosphere is so much fun,” said Thuss. “It’s usually upbeat, but when we are talking about harder topics it’s serious, and by the end we always bring it back to something fun.”

One of the fun yet serious elements of the club is its name Birkenstocks, or Birks for short.

“Birkenstocks, I think most people know, are one of the stereotypical symbols of an angry, hairy, man-hating, Subaru-driving feminist,” said Grasso. “We wanted to reclaim something that had previously been rooted in a negative evaluation and make it something that we owned and that was positive and that was funny.”

There is a lot of rhetoric around the word “feminism” such as man-hating and angry women, which simply isn’t true.

“Feminism is the advocacy of equal rights between the genders in terms of social issues, political issues, and economic issues, so it’s really advocacy of the equality of the sexes,” said Grasso.

Grube has a similar definition of feminism.

“A feminist is someone who wants equal rights between men and women,” she said. “I’m for that and believe there should be no disparities between the genders.”

A lot of the stereotypical views of feminists come from media portrayals of radical women burning bras; however, knowledge is lacking as well.

“I think it’s rooted in not understanding it or not knowing it, which is all the more reason for people to talk about it and explore it,” said Grasso. “So it’s not a club saying you have to be a feminist to be part of the conversation, but you have to be willing to challenge your preconceived notions about feminism.”

Overall, the club fosters unique discussion about gender issues and the members of the club bring unique perspectives to the table.

Grasso encourages anyone who’s curious about gender, even if they don’t know what gender really means, to join.

“I really enjoy this club and the group of people in it. It’s a safe environment where we can share our ideas that we might not be able to share anywhere else,” said Thuss. “This is only the second year for the club so I see a lot of growth possible and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the future.”

DeSales faculty votes “sexual orientation” should be added to non-discrimination policy

Originally published in Issue 14, Fifty-First Year of The Minstrel (May 4, 2017). 

At the April faculty meeting, 77 percent of the faculty voted in favor of adding “sexual orientation” to the Notice of Non-discrimination found in the faculty and student handbooks. However, the final decision is up to the Board of Trustees.

This vote closely mirrors the statistic from the Public Religion Research Institute that found 76 percent of Catholics favor laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

The lack of protection for LGBT students and faculty was first brought to the Faculty Steering Committee about a year ago and the conversation continued into this academic year.

A new version of the non- discrimination policy was drafted with the only difference being the addition of the two words “sexual orientation.” A total of 97 faculty members attended the meeting and voted anonymously with a secret ballot. The results revealed 72 faculty members voted in favor of the policy change, 24 members opposed the change and one person abstained from voting.

“I was elated,” said instructor Larry Belt after he heard the results. “I could breathe deeper, I could stand taller. I felt like something had been accomplished and a weight had been lightened.”

Although the decision to include “sexual orientation” is not finalized yet, it is really about the voice of the faculty being heard. The February faculty meeting revolved around opposition to the policy, which was mostly based in the teachings of the Catholic Church. The March meeting was cancelled, and supporters of the policy change were now ready to speak at the April meeting.

“The opportunity for it to be discussed really opened the door to people willing to speak in favor of it,” said Belt.

In their hearts, Belt said, people knew which way they were going to vote and whether or not that matches with the way they live.

“If it opened up that way for the faculty, I think about if there were an open forum for students that it would be the same thing,” he said.

If an open forum about LGBT concerns is held at DeSales, students will be able to discuss their positions and needs. This could then lead to the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), which is a student-run club that offers support and a safe environment to the LGBT community.

From the Editor’s desk: Saying goodbye to my role as Editor-in-Chief

Originally published in Issue 14, Fifty-First Year of The Minstrel (May 4, 2017). 

I almost never joined The Minstrel.

I came into DeSales thinking I wanted to be an advertising copywriter and had no intention of pursuing journalism as a career. I became a staff writer on The Minstrel a couple weeks into freshman year to make friends and get involved in the school. I thought it might be difficult to handle the extra work, but I decided to try it out.

Looking back, I’d like to pat my freshman-self on the back for making that decision because this paper has created a passion in me to investigate facts, interview people and tell their stories.

Overall, The Minstrel has been one of the most impactful things I’ve done here. It’s taught me bravery, leadership and how to accept criticism.

When I accepted my position as Editor-in-Chief last year, I had no idea how I was going to fill 14 issues. I knew I wanted to bring controversial topics to The Minstrel but I wasn’t sure what topics or how. This year is when I really got into the mindset that everything can be turned into a story and my gears were always turning for new ideas.

I also moved away from editorials this year since I have this great “Letter from the Editor’s desk” where I can write anything I want—which has been an absolute pleasure—and started focusing on hard news.

I am proud of my staff and myself for covering many weighty topics such as sexual assault, LGBT rights, mental health, sex trafficking and politics. We’ve opened up diverse conversations on a campus where these conversations were previously lacking or nonexistent.

It has specifically been great to witness the evolvement of the non-discrimination policy, which I first covered in November, and to now see that the decision to add “sexual orientation” is going to the Board. (Read the article out on Page 1.)

In addition to improving article content, we added the “Editorial” section and editor position. In previous years, there would only be an Editorial Page when there were enough articles to fill a page; however, this year we made sure to devote at least one page an issue to editorials.

We changed the masthead design, fonts and other layout changes such as photo stories to approve the paper’s appeal. Additionally, we cut the full puzzle page to either a quarter page to sometimes nonexistent in order to cover more content for our readers.

I have many people I would like to thank for their support at DeSales. First, I would like to thank The Minstrel staff for putting up with my perfectionist attitude when it comes to editing articles. It was a pleasure working with Managing Editor Will Edwards and all the other editors by my side. I know they will all have great success in the future. I wish Chris Shaddock the best of luck as Editor-in-Chief for the next two years. The enthusiasm you have for journalism will take The Minstrel to great places and I can’t wait to see the paper continue to evolve.

I’d like to thank The Minstrel’s advisor Professor McKnight for being an inspiration to me as a journalist and always helping me out of the hot water I often created; Dr. Grasso for bringing out the feminist in me, always chatting with me in her office and challenging me academically to be the best I could be; and all the other professors I’ve had an honor of meeting at DeSales who have shown their support for me in some way.

I couldn’t have made it through the past four years without my communication right hand (wo)man Erin Grube. (They’ll miss us roaming the Humanities hallway next year.) Thanks for being a friend to me since freshman year and helping me learn that it’s okay to not be
perfect.

Thank you to my best friend Skye Van Hook—who “doesn’t even go here”—but has shown so much support and encouragement for my articles on social media that you would think she did. She believes in me and my talent more than I believe in myself.

And thank you Tina Tran, the nicest person I know, for attending almost every DeSales event with me. It’s been a memorable four years and I know we will keep the random road trips coming.

Last, but not least I’d like to thank my mom, dad and Katie for reading ALL of my articles over the past four years; there’s been a lot.

Even as a commuter, DeSales was a second home to me. I will tremendously miss this place and the kind-hearted people I’ve met here, but I know I’ll be back to visit.

Although the future ahead of me remains uncertain, I know I’ll be writing. I’d like to take my investigative journalistic skills to the real world and continue to fight for justice in my articles.

I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, “Pretty Little Liars,” that is also about to come to an end.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?”—Spencer Hastings

Peace, love & DeSales,

Kellie Dietrich
Editor-in-Chief