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Tips for Safe Online Shopping This Holiday Season

Shopping Online

It’s Cyber Monday, the largest online shopping day of the year, and if your inbox looks anything like ours, its filled with messages about online deals and sales.  This year, retailers are anticipating more than $2 billion dollars in online transactions with an ever-increasing amount of those sales taking place from mobile devices.  Each one of these transactions represents an opportunity for hackers.  Today and everyday, the experts in the Auburn Cyber Research Center and in the Open Source Intelligence Lab are working to keep the cyber marketplace secure.  To learn more about their efforts, visit: www.auburn.edu/cyber.

In the meantime, to help keep you safe during the online shopping season, the National Cyber Security Alliance has assembled some great tips through their StaySafeOnline initiative, and this morning seemed like a great time to pass them along:

Before you start your holiday shopping, remember to STOP. THINK. CONNECT.: Make sure security measures are in place, understand the consequences of your actions and behaviors and enjoy the benefits of the Internet.

Keep a Clean Machine: All the devices you use for shopping ‐ including smartphones and tablets ‐ should have up‐to‐date software including security software, operating systems, programs and apps.

When in Doubt, Throw it Out: Links in email, tweets, posts, and online advertising are often the way cybercriminals compromise your computer. If it looks suspicious, even if you know the source, it’s best to delete or if appropriate, mark as junk email.

Think Before you Act: Be wary of communications that offer amazing deals that sound too good to be true, implore you to act immediately ‐ including those about a problem with an order or payment or ask you to view the website via a provided link.

Get Savvy about Wi‐Fi Hotspots: Don’t share personal or financial information over an unsecured network (a connection that doesn’t require a password for access). Using the direct web access on your phone (via a 3G/4G connection) is safer than an unsecured wireless network when on your mobile device.

Make Sure the Site is Legitimate: This includes a closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar or a URL address that begins with shttp or https. This indicates that the purchase is encrypted or secured. For new sites, check online reviews.

Protect your Personal Information: Be alert to the kinds of information being collected to complete the transaction. Make sure the information requested is only that needed to complete the transaction. Only fill out required fields on checkout forms. Check the website’s privacy policy. Make sure you understand how your information will be stored and used.

Use Safe Payment Options: Credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow buyers to seek a credit from the issuer if the product isn’t delivered or isn’t what was ordered. Credit cards may have a limit on the monetary amount you will be responsible for paying. Never send cash through the mail or use a money‐wiring service.

Keep a Paper Trail: Save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale, and copies of email exchanges with the seller. Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there aren’t any unauthorized charges. If there is a discrepancy, call your bank and report it immediately.

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Alabama Cyber Research Consortium Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Alabama Cyber Research ConsortiumA newly organized consortium of the state’s top university cyber researchers has been awarded an NSF Science, Technology, and Society grant to develop a three-day conference at the National Science Foundation in Bethesda, Maryland in May.  The conference will focus on ethics and digital forensics.

The Alabama Cyber Research Consortium (ALCRC) is a partnership of the seven PhD-granting universities in Alabama. Formed in 2013, after years of informal and formal collaborations between smaller groups of the partner Universities, the ALCRC is the culmination of individual and collective commitments to research, advanced development, education, and outreach in all areas of the cyber domain.  Member institutions include: Alabama A&M University, Auburn University, Tuskegee University, The University of Alabama, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the University of Alabama in Huntsville and the University of South Alabama.

“This award represents the first funding opportunity and significant national recognition for the ALCRC.  It powerfully demonstrates the validity of the consortium and how closely tied together we are as members.  It also speaks to the new ways in which higher education can organize to advance research in critical areas like cyber,” said Anthony Skjellum, COLSA cyber security and information assurance professor in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, and director of the Auburn Cyber Research Center in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn University.

The ALCRC, along with The University of Alabama’s Cyber Institute and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research have received a significant grant from the NSF to design a national conference in the spring of 2015.  The event will provide opportunities for members of the cyber community to address critical issues in digital forensics, including a lack of unifying ethical standards, procedures and guidelines for routine activities such as forensic analysis, cyber-crime case processing and data mining/surveillance.

“Auburn University is proud to be recognized as one of the founding members of the Alabama Cyber Research Consortium for our focus on and role in addressing topics of such vital importance to our state and nation.  It reflects our commitment to the primary mission of serving the people of Alabama,” said Lieutenant General (retired) Ron Burgess, senior counsel for national security programs, cyber programs and military affairs at Auburn University.

“This is the first time that the topic of ethical guidelines for digital forensic examiners has been openly discussed at such a high level forum, “ said John Sloan, director of UAB’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research, and principal investigator of the grant. “We hope to develop policies and ‘best practices’ as a result of this conference that will assist forensic examiners and reduce potential lawsuits and mishandled criminal cases.”

In a statement issued earlier this month, Reginald Hyde, executive director of The University of Alabama’s Cyber Institute said, “This grant is the first of many anticipated funded projects between members of the Alabama Cyber Research Consortium.  UA’s Institute is excited to begin developing cyber policy—such as that projected by this project—that benefits the citizens of Alabama.”

The Alabama Cyber Research Consortium is an active group of scientists, engineers, and affiliates committed to creating solutions with practical impact on the state, local, regional, and national economy, and to helping consumers, corporations, and the public sector solve real problems and avoid significant harm involving cybercrime and related national security issues.

To learn more about the Alabama Cyber Research Consortium, visit:  www.ALCRC.org.   To learn more about the Auburn University Cyber Initiative, visit: www.auburn.edu/cyber