SEATTLE — Brett Johnson once made a living harvesting personal information from vulnerable accounts and naïve users, then turning around and selling it to other criminals on the so-called dark web. He was prolific enough to earn the nickname “Original Internet Godfather”.
One 7-year prison sentence later, Johnson is now working on the right side of the law, consulting with the Secret Service to help educate and illuminate the dark web. He shared some of his old tricks and how to prevent data and identity theft.
“While these crimes are extremely scary, it’s not really complicated to protect yourself,” he said. “There’s basically three things you need to do, and it’s the concept people need to understand that cybercrime criminals (are after) the low-hanging fruit. They’re not actually out there looking for specific people, so just the basic level of security that you implement will protect you far and above everyone else.”
“I can make a phishing email that looks like it comes from Bank of America, and I could send that out to millions of people,” Johnson said. “And all those millions of people, they may all look at that email and they’ll say, ‘That’s obviously a phishing email, I’m not about to fall for that!’
“But if I fashion a phishing email that looks like it comes from Hulu, now their level awareness is not going to be as high. And if they use the same password and login for their Hulu account that they use for their bank account, guess what? I’ve got your bank account.”
Using a password manager will help you create unique login credentials for all the sites you visit, and all you need to remember is one secure password for the manager. Right now, 80 percent of people use the same password across multiple sites.
Somewhat surprisingly, children are the most victimized segment of the population when it comes to identity theft. According to Johnson, one in four kids will be preyed on for synthetic fraud, tax fraud or medical fraud. That’s why he recommends freezing the credit of your children.
For more information on cybercrime, the AARP has put together a video tutorial.
To help Washingtonians better sort fact from fiction, AARP, the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington and BECU are offering a four-part series of free online events called Sorting Fact from Fiction: Finding truth in an infodemic. The event is open to everyone. Pre-registration is required. Sign up now at AARP.org/factfromfiction.