3 frightening cybersecurity stories for this Halloween
October not only marks the Halloween season but also has been declared Cybersecurity Awareness Month. And what better way to celebrate the two than sharing cyber horror stories? Here are three pretty scary cybersecurity stories we selected and some tips to stay safe this season and beyond.
#1 Somebody’s watching me
A Mississippi couple, Ashley LeMay and Dylan Blakeley, bought a Ring security camera to help them watch over their daughters. They installed the camera in the girls’ room but little did they know they were not the only ones watching over them.
One night, the built-in speakers started playing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” The music lured an eight-year-old daughter Alyssa into the room. The girl was confused about where the music was coming from. She walked around her room and checked all of her toys, looking for the source of the sound. And then suddenly, an unfamiliar man’s voice started talking through the built-in speaker.
“Hello there!” said the voice at first, but then started spotting a racial slur at the girl.
“Who is that?” Alyssa asked, confused.
“I’m your best friend,” the voice replied. “You can do whatever you want right now. You can mess up your room. You can break your TV. You can do whatever you want.”
“Who is that?” the girl yelled again.
“I’m your best friend,” repeated the voice, “I’m Santa Claus.”
“Mommy!” Alyssa screamed.
Upon learning about the event, the girls’ parents unplugged the camera and reported the episode to the Ring and later to the police in Southaven, Mississippi. The Ring attributed this and similar events to hackers gaining users’ login credentials through a third party and then using them to log into Ring users’ accounts.
Something as simple as using two-factor authentication and unique passwords across different accounts might have prevented the hack. If you’re using the same passwords for creating different accounts and one of them gets compromised, it is easy for hackers to hijack all of those other accounts as well. Tools such as Atlas VPN’s Data Breach Monitor can alert you whenever your credentials have been leaked online so you can act immediately.
#2 Neighbor from hell
In 2009 Matt and Bethany Kostolnik and their children moved into the Minneapolis suburb of Blaine. On the first day, the Kostolnik’s then-4-year-old son wandered near their neighbor Ardolf’s house. The neighbor brought the boy back next door. However, allegedly kissed him on the lips. Shocked by the neighbor’s behavior, Kostolniks reported him to the police.
But that was just the beginning of Kostolnik’s problems. Not long after, one of Mr. Kostolnik’s co-workers received an email featuring child pornography sent from his actual email address. Some female co-workers reported Mr. Kostolnik for flirtatious messages.
In May 2009, Mr. Kostolnik also received a visit from the Secret Service. They wanted to inquire about threatening emails addressed to Biden and other politicians sent from a Yahoo account that they traced back to his IP address. However, Mr. Kostolnik could not explain any of the events.
Mr. Kostolnik’s office decided to hire a law firm to examine his network and discovered that an “unknown” device had access to it. Eventually, they were able to track it back to Ardolf. The FBI got a search warrant for Ardolf’s house and his computer.
It turned out that Ardolf downloaded Wi-Fi hacking software and cracked Kostolnik’s WEP encryption. Using their own Wi-Fi network, he created a fake MySpace profile for the husband with a pornographic picture on display and was behind all other atrocities that took place. Kostolniks believe their neighbor did this out of revenge.
WEP encryption is the basic level of Wi-Fi protection. And while better than nothing, the internet is full of tutorials on how to crack it. Ideally, you should configure your router to use a more advanced encryption protocol such as WPA2. However, a weak password can undermine even the most robust encryption protocol. Changing your router’s default credentials and keeping it up to date can go a long way to keeping the router safe from malicious actors.
#3 AirTag nightmare
Brooks Nader thought it would be a casual day for her. At first, she was dining at a restaurant bar in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood, where she was about to meet her friend. Afterward, she went to another bar and then the third one. It was not until she started walking home a strange thing happened. Around 11:30 p.m., when she was halfway home, she got a notification on her phone.
It said that a device that did not belong to her had been detected and was moving with her. Then her phone died. She looked around, and she ran.
Thankfully Brooks made it home that night. After getting home, she and her husband searched through her purse and all the clothes she was wearing that night. They found a little piece of electronics in her coat’s front pocket. It turns out someone slipped an AirTag into her coat when she was out in public and has been following her every move since.
Although Brooks Nader is a known Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, it’s not only influencers who reported instances of finding out they are being tracked via AirTags. AirTag is a device created by Apple designed to help locate frequently misplaced items. Unfortunately, this seemingly helpful device has been revealed to be often utilized for stalking.
In one instance, a woman was in her car when she got a random notification that an AirTag was detected near her. Her phone displayed a map of where she was with a trail of red dots indicating the route she’d just taken. Not knowing what triggered the notification, she drove to her friend’s house, and they searched the car. They found the AirTag hidden under the carpet in the back.
Fortunately, Apple has provided accessible solutions to stop unwanted tracking. Now that you know this is a possibility make sure to familiarize yourself with ways to discover unwanted tracking by AirTag.
To prevent these cybersecurity nightmares from becoming your reality, always stay vigilant and take sensible precautions. However, we know that cybersecurity can be overwhelming. So don’t forget we’re always here to help you guard your privacy and security to make this digital world a less scary place.
We have a lot of cybersecurity tips and resources available — check the Atlas VPN blog if you want to learn more. Have a safe and happy Halloween!
*All three stories featured in this blog post are based on information reported by various media sources and have links to media articles.