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Your laptop could come under attack at NATO, experts warn


If you’re going to be spending time downtown during the Chicago NATO Summit, road closings, train delays and protesters may not be your only hassles. Security experts say your laptop and smartphone may be targeted by attackers or borrowed by free-loaders.

In addition, Internet, wireless voice and even electrical outages are possible, and workers and residents should back up their devices.

“Political activism and any type of social unrest manifest themselves first in cyberspace,” said Tom Kellermann, vice president of cybersecurity for Trend Micro, a Cupertino, Calif.-based cybersecurity firm. “Whether it’s an anarchy movement, war opponents, terrorist groups, state-actor groups or criminal groups, they become much more active around these types of events.”

He said he has seen “an exponential increase” in “malware” (malicious software) targeting smartphone and tablets.

“I wouldn’t recommend using Wi-Fi or sharing one’s location via Foursquare near the event,” he said. “(Cybercriminals) can leverage ‘man in the middle’ attacks against Wi-Fi access points in the neighborhood.”

Anyone who gains access to a person’s wireless device knows the person’s location when he is carrying the device, said Kellermann, a former member of the president’s Commission on Cybersecurity who spoke to a cloud computing conference in Chicago last week.

Kellermann said people in the summit area should also update their desktop computers to ensure the anti-virus software is working.

“The cyber attacks will be against users, folks and entities that support the NATO event,” he said. “There will be targeted attacks via email and social media against people working security, catering, hospitality – potentially any participant in the event.”

The best thing to do is not to click on any links sent by email, Kellermann said.

“The reality of location-based apps like Foursquare is that, in this day and age of Web 3.0 and information readily available on your profile and your location, people should treat cyberspace as a dangerous and hostile neighborhood. Use it selectively. Don’t trust in the fact you think it’s benevolent,” Kellermann said.

Smart-phone users should lock out their Wi-Fi hot spots so outsiders cannot jump on, said Karl Volkman, chief technology officer at SRV Network Inc. in Chicago.

Even those staying at hotels aren’t immune.

An FBI alert issued earlier this month cautioned that cybercriminals are targeting people when they set up their laptops to connect with a hotel’s Internet service. The hotel guest gets a pop-up window on his laptop asking him to update a certain software product, and instead, gets malware, according to the FBI alert. Experts recommend not clicking on those updates.

Certain companies – especially those with ties to the NATO event, financial institutions and defense contractors – are no doubt being eyed for “denial of service” attacks, a popular way for cybercriminals to overwhelm a computer or a network server by inundating it with “garbage” communications in order to shut it down, said Michael Lee, a principal consultant with SWC Technology Partners, an Oak Brook technology solutions provider.

Downtown and NATO Summit zone workers also should prepare for intended or accidental shutoffs of electricity, wireless voice and Internet communications, Lee said.