Reducing Email Risk

One of my company’s customers drove to a large amusement park, valet parking at the main entrance. As he was leaving hours later, he learned two important facts. The park didn’t offer valet parking, and his car was gone.

This crime wasn’t an elaborate conspiracy involving high-tech gadgetry or extensive planning. It relied on a few parking cones, an official looking vest and human nature. He simply handed over the key, as instructed.

Everyone occasionally follows directions before exercising critical thinking.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where thieves steal more money with a few keystrokes than John Dillinger and Willie Sutton ever did with a gun, and without fear of being shot or thrown into the Eastern State Penitentiary. (I worked two blocks away for years. But I’ll save those stories for later.)

This insidious and increasingly resourceful breed of cyber criminals rely on human nature. Just like the car thieves, they’re counting on someone acting before they think.

Socially-engineered emails attempt to deceive us into downloading malicious software by clicking on a link or opening an attachment. These emails often appear to be work-related, masquerading as having been sent by a co-worker or other known person. As recent headlines demonstrate, once unleashed they can destroy or hold critical data for ransom, or take down entire networks.

The first line of defense against this criminal activity is us. Two techniques at our disposal when defending against email attacks are:

1. Maintain an air of professional skepticism. Be appropriately suspicious and act accordingly;
2. Think before you click!

Here are a few points to remember:

• Never open email or attachments from senders not familiar to you.

• Don’t open email or attachments from people you think you know if the contents appear suspicious.  Virtually imperceptible changes can trick even the most vigilant email user into thinking they recognize the sender. For example, replacing a lower case “L” with an upper case “i” or inserting an extra letter in an already long email address is easily overlooked.

• If the email asks you to click on a hyperlink, run your cursor over it. If it goes to a drop box or google box…it’s MALICIOUS.

• Before clicking, ask yourself:

  1. Is the email work related and is the subject appropriate for me?
  2. Are the links in the email relevant to its purported content?
  3. Were you expecting the email or have you previously received emails from the sender?

• Don’t open attachments with the following file extensions: .exe; .bat; .com or .zip

Finally, when in doubt, delete the email or “go old school”. Pick up the phone and call the sender.

FINDING THE RIGHT DOMAIN NAME

There is an often-told story (disputed by many historians) that the head of the U.S. Patent Office once sent his resignation to President McKinley, suggesting the office be closed because “everything that can be invented has been invented.”

You might think you are encountering a modern day equivalent situation when trying to select a domain name for your business or blog. After all, Google announced seven years ago that it had already indexed over 1 trillion unique URLs.

Securing a good (notice I did not say “the perfect”) domain name can be frustrating. Your selection must be unique, the single road by which the world must travel to your ecommerce doorstep.

It is therefore essential that you secure the best available domain name for your business. Simply recognize and accept in advance that it is usually a classic example of satisfying a process, not optimizing it.

Consider the following points:

  1. Begin by preparing a prioritized list of acceptable names. Avoid unprofessional sounding domain names unless they are somehow related to or descriptive of your business. Variations of your name should be safe bets.
  2. The next step is to search your list on any domain registrar. The largest and best-known registrar in the United States is GoDaddy. Network Solutions and Netfirms are also popular. Prices vary widely. Since you will probably use the same company to host your website and email, consider the entire cost of the package, not just the cost of name registration.
  3. Don’t throw in the towel just because your first choice has been taken. Enter it into your browser and see if it is actually being used. If not, there is an active aftermarket for domain names. Free services such as www.Whois.net and www.Better-Whois.com will show the registrar and, depending on the account’s privacy settings, the name and address of the registrant. You can then contact the owner and inquire whether the name is available at a reasonable price. The same services will tell you when the registration expires and (for a fee) notify you if the registrant fails to renew.
  4. A cheaper alternative is to construct a similar name. Perhaps the insertion of a simple hyphen, using an abbreviation, substituting numeric symbols for words and so on will accomplish your goal. The only limitation is the one imposed by your creativity. Whatever name you choose, try to keep it as short as possible, preferable 10 characters or less.
  5. The most widely used domain extension is .com. If it is unavailable, other options include .net, .biz, .us and .info. Although originally intended for nonprofit organizations, many commercial ventures now use the .org extension. Most registrars will automatically show you other available options if your preferred extension is taken. With the continued expansion of the Internet, the inability to reserve .com no longer carries much of a negative marketing connotation in most situations.
  6. Finally, after you have decided on a domain name and extension, consider reserving other available extensions to keep them out of the hands of current and future competitors. For example, you might buy mycompany.net, mycompany.biz, mycompany.US and mycompany.org as companions to mycompany.com. Additional domain names can be purchased without a hosting package for as little as $10 each, per year. You can also direct inquiries to these companion extensions to your primary web address.

© 2015 by CFO America, LLC

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