Federal prosecutors warn sophomores about cyber dangers

Deputy Chief of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crime Section Stephanie Christensen speaks with a student after her presentation to the sophomore class. Credit: Danielle Spitz/Chronicle
Deputy Chief of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crime Section Stephanie Christensen speaks with a student after her presentation to the sophomore class. Credit: Danielle Spitz/Chronicle

Federal prosecutors Tony Lewis ’96 and Stephanie Christensen spoke to the sophomore class Feb. 28 about the dangers of cyber criminals and how to avoid becoming a victim.

Both prosecutors work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles in the Department of Justice. Lewis serves as the Deputy Chief of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section, and Christensen is the Deputy Chief of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crime Section.

To make students aware that seemingly private information posted on social media or shared on the Internet can become involuntarily publicized, the speakers reviewed cases involving cyber criminals and teenage victims.

“While using phones and social media might seem like an intimate and sometimes personal way to communicate, it really, in reality, is something that can be permanent and irreversible, and that you really can lose control of,” Lewis said.

Christensen first explained the term “sextortion” and how common it is becoming among younger people.

“[Sextortion] is the term we prosecutors use when someone online is threatening you, tricking you, coercing you in order to get from you usually images of yourself or something of a sexual nature” Christensen said.

The speakers urged students to act with caution while sharing private information and to look out for “malware” as a way of avoiding a potentially harmful situation.

Malware, or malicious software, is one way cyber criminals acquire private files. Malware includes suspicious links, e-mails and pop-up advertisements, and when downloaded, it can be used to access photos, videos and other files from a computer.

Lewis also discussed another way private files can be hacked, social engineering, which includes “phishing” and “spear-fishing.” Both are targeted approaches. Spear-fishing is more individualized and exploits personal information to imitate a legitimate individual trusted by the victim as a way to access even more of their private information. In phishing cyber criminals target groups in a similar fashion.

“It’s important for us all to think about what we put [on the Internet],” Lewis said. “What is something that anyone could know about us that they could use to send something harmful?”

 

The speakers also mentioned that staying up-to-date on software updates can help prevent personal information from being leaked.

“As teens, even when we aren’t sending pictures, the assembly made us so aware of the power of social media and the risks we are taking by ignoring something so simple, such as software updates,” Samantha Radlovic ’18 said. “Overall, [the assembly] was so interesting, and I think it was important for us to here something like that sooner than later.”

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