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Protect Your Family Online with These Tools and Tips

Hari Ravichandran talks about his best tips to protect your family online.

Keeping yourself and your family safe online is essential, especially in a world of smart home devices where many things are connected to the internet. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and put off online security until the worst happens. But there are simple steps that you can take to protect your family online. And you don’t have to be an IT expert to do it.


See Predicting Network Vulnerability with Hari Ravichandran for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.

Hari Ravichandran is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is the founder and CEO of a company called Aura. It’s a company that is dedicated to helping families feel safer online. Hari founded it after his own painful personal experience with identity theft. Aura offers an all-in-one product that helps people stay safe from cyberthreats and actually prevent online security crises from happening.

Hari’s Identity Theft Experience

In 2014, Hari applied to refinance his mortgage. The application was denied. He started to investigate why, and he found a bunch of accounts on his credit that weren’t his. Hari had never thought much about credit and personal safety online before. But now, he was curious – and he had a big problem to deal with.

He never could prove how the identity theft happened. His best guess is that his information was exposed in a data breach. Then his information got onto the dark web, criminals picked it up and created synthetic identities, and the new accounts started appearing. Obviously, Hari never got the bills, so the new accounts defaulted and damaged his credit. Hari noticed after only a few months because of his mortgage refinance. Otherwise he may not have known until collections agents started calling.

It took a long time to get it sorted out. Canceling and replacing his credit cards and changing all his passwords took a few weeks. Freezing his credit and getting the fraudulent accounts removed took several months. He had to get a lawyer involved to convince the credit bureaus he wasn’t just trying to avoid his bills. But for the next five years, every time he filed his taxes he had to show up at the local IRS office to prove he was really Hari Ravichandran.

The more Hari looked at identity theft, the more it seemed like a complicated problem without a real solution. Experts would provide step-by-step solutions and products to deal with it, but nobody seemed to have an answer for why it happened and how it could be prevented. Hari likes to solve problems, and that was an opportunity. There had to be millions of people out there going through the same thing.

Aura’s Approach to Protect Your Family Online

The driving force behind Aura’s products is that your life is not fragmented into pieces. It’s one continuous whole. In order to get a full view of your security, you have to look at all the data – bank transactions, desktops, file scans, browser data, connected device data from your home. That is the core of what Hari started building. He wanted to get a holistic view of each individual and family, what they do, and where their safety gaps are.

Your life is not in pieces. There’s not just identity, there’s not just viruses on your computer, there’s not just transactions … your security is a large continuum in a lot of ways.

Hari Ravichandran

Initially, they were reactive. They monitored for issues, and when they spotted one, the goal was to speed up the family’s learning. In an identity theft incident, for example, they could notify a family within minutes if there was an incident on any of the three credit bureaus. It was basically rapid alerting.

Overtime, Aura’s approach to protecting your family online evolved. If your house is on fire, you do want a really good alarm system so you can get out as quickly as possible. However, that alarm doesn’t change the fact that your house is still on fire. The best thing would be to prevent the fire in the first place. Aura’s direction now is working proactively to prevent incidents. This could involve analyzing patterns, automatically locking credit on your behalf, prompting you to change passwords on vulnerable accounts, and more. They work to create a real security view of you and your family, then come up with ways to help avoid potential issues.

There’s definitely value in knowing it, but there’s a lot more value in preventing it.

Hari Ravichandran

Being Proactive Helps Protect Your Family Online

There is a lot more demand for proactive solutions lately. Families are more connected than ever. Between Hari, his wife, and his children, they have around fifty devices online and operational in their home. That’s fifty potential entry points into his family’s digital life where criminals can gather data.

To protect your family online, you have to be aware of the connected devices in your home.

However, the technology can also be an advantage, especially with the growth of AI. We have the ability to protect your family online by scanning extreme amounts of data to predict what’s potentially risky. Aura does this by creating a large security graph with customers’ data. Then based on the patterns for your particular family, they can predict the risk of particular incidents. And they can do this in real time. As soon as the risks change, they know. Once they have this information, they can tailor the solution to something that makes sense for your family.

As AI, machine learning, and computing availability increase, monitoring gets better and better. Aura is rolling out a new product that analyzes incoming calls in real time. They identify if a caller is likely to be a scammer, and route scam calls to a mailbox. The caller can leave a message, and Aura will transcribe the message and let you see it in the app. This is all done almost in real-time, as the call is coming in. They can also use transaction monitoring to help protect your family online. The data shows that Hari spends $200 at Amazon sometimes, so that’s not a problem. But if Hari suddenly spends $200 at Starbucks, that’s outside the usual pattern and they can spot it. With all the data stored centrally and mapped intelligently, they can do this monitoring nearly in real time.

The Challenge of False Positives

If a monitoring system is overprotective and sends a lot of notifications, it becomes a whole new issue. Some notifications are useful. But if they’re overwhelmed by notifications that aren’t important or are false positives, they become a nuisance. People stop listening.

If I keep sending a bunch of alerts that don’t mean anything, at some point … it’s like a boy cried wolf. They’re not going to bother looking anymore.

Hari Ravichandran

Financial alerting asks customers to set a threshold for alerts. But most people don’t know how much they spend per transaction. If they set it too low, they get a lot of alerts. It becomes irritating and they tune it out. But if they set it too high, they get fewer alerts but they may miss things that should have been alerts. Asking customers to set their own threshold is asking them a question they don’t have an easy time answering.

Aura has started doing smart thresholding. They use the data and figure out the best threshold for you. Using these analysis and AI tools helps make it easy to protect your family online. Many people want to pay someone fifteen dollars a month so they don’t have to worry about it. We all have busy lives and other commitments. Even though it’s important to protect your family online, you also want it to be easy. Aura’s vision is to make protecting your family online as easy as pressing a button.

Scams and the Hassle Factor

Many people are getting smarter about how this “hassle factor” makes it harder to protect your family online. A lot of systems are getting better, too. But there’s still a lot of gaps. On the Aura website, there is a lot of content about phishing and scams. Hari sometimes talks to customers and is still amazed by how many variants of scams exist. From Facebook scams to romance scams, people are able to exploit a variety of human needs. Most of these scams are very clever, nuanced, and hard to spot.

It puts the onus on the individual to get better at pattern recognition and stop the scams. Blanket advice isn’t enough to protect your family online anymore because scammers are smart. Now we’re in situations where we’re not sure if something is a scam, we know we need to be cautious but we aren’t sure what to trust. It puts more pressure and stress on us.

Scams are getting smarter, too. In February, there was an earthquake in Syria and Turkey, which was a great opportunity for charity scams. After Valentine’s day, there’s a huge spike in romance scams. People running elder scams know to call around two or three o’clock in the afternoon, during a lull in their day, and to use terms like “church service” to get them to open up. There are many variations and scams can change dramatically. Without AI and learning systems, it’s practically impossible to keep on top of it.

Protect Your Family From Organized Cybercrime

Fifteen years ago, hacking was just one individual hacking someone else. Now, it’s an organized system. Some people harvest data, and others know how to monetize it. There are marketplaces were they can transmit and sell that data. It’s organized and it’s a big business.

Hari wrote his upcoming book, Intelligent Safety: How to Protect Your Connected Family from Big Cybercrime, specifically to make people aware of these things going on under the surface. Going up against big cybercrime to protect your family online is daunting. But his book is an almost step-by-step guide. First, you’ll understand the issues, and then learn how to think about security.

It’s not about convincing you to buy his product – or any product. It’s about being aware, being smart, leveraging tech that already exists, and turning the tables on the bad guys. Most people are unaware of the issues until they’re affected. But a basic amount of protection is still better than none at all. The book helps people understand what’s possible, how it could affect them, what they can do, and giving examples.

The One Security Improvement Everyone Should Do Today

Not reusing passwords is one of the most basic online security tips. If you use the same password for multiple accounts and one gets breached, they’re all at risk. Hari thinks everyone should use a password manager to create more secure passwords. Getting your family to use a password manager can help protect your family online.

But the one major security improvement that Hari recommends is turning on two-factor authentication. Whatever accounts have it available as an option, turn it on. Two-factor authentication (also called 2FA or MFA, for multi-factor authentication) requires an extra step to log in. You enter your username and password, but you also get a code through an SMS message, an authenticator app, or a hardware token. You have to enter the code in order to finish logging in.

Two-factor authentication is the best step you can take to protect your family online.

A hardware token is the most secure. There’s no way to spoof it with SIM swapping, and it cycles through codes faster. But if someone has a lot of trouble with it, they just won’t do it. It’s better to use a less secure SMS message or app than have no security at all. A code from an app or SMS could still be spoofed and create issues. But if it reduces fraud by forty or fifty percent, it’s still worth it.

If it’s a spectrum of 0-10 for safety, you’d rather somebody be at a 3 or 4 … versus being at zero because the [method] is so hard to get set up and use.

Hari Ravichandran

Consider What You Connect to Your Network

Hari has about fifty devices connected at his house. Who is maintaining security for them? If you want to protect your family online, you have to make decisions. You can put some protection on top of what you’re buying to make sure you’re in control of security. Or you can do your due diligence and choose a product that will be secure and stay secure.

Think about the physical world. How often do you invite a random stranger into your house? You probably don’t. In fact, you probably lock your doors and close your windows to prevent random strangers from coming in. Think about your digital life the same way. Who are you letting into your network? Are your virtual doors and windows locked? If someone does try to get into your digital world, do you have alarms to alert you?

Some people are more comfortable securing their own devices. But many of us would prefer to pay a little more to purchase something from a reputable company. It’s not a guarantee. Sometimes a reputable company still doesn’t keep up on security. You’re playing a bit of a probability game either way. What choice is best for you depends on you and your family.

Where Aura comes in is filling that last gap. Hari can go to his mom and tell her exactly what she needs to do to be protected, and she’ll say, “Can you do it for me? I don’t know what to do.” Hari can help her, but he can’t help everybody. Aura’s goal is to guide you to better protect your family online.

Protecting Your Smart Home Technology

When it comes to connected and smart home technology, monitoring is key. There are lots of solutions out there for Internet of Things (IoT) scanning and security. They will list each device, tell you when the last update was, and keep track of other security things. You’ll have console where you can see what’s happening in your household. It’s extremely benefical.

On the front end, do a little research before putting things in your home. Do they have a history of breaches? When Hari and his wife were buying baby monitors for their kids, they did some research. Baby monitors have IP addresses. They wanted to see if there were any incidents of breaches or break-ins on the devices. Doing this diligence up front will go a long way. It’s not a guarantee – even the smartest programmer can still leave bugs in a complex system. But it does improve your odds and help protect your family online.

The more tech you enable, the less secure you are.

Hari Ravichandran

Tech is amazing and makes our lives easier. But right now, the more connected you are, the less secure you are. Connection and security shouldn’t be opposites, but that’s how the ecosystem evolved. Hari is optimistic, though. Every day people get better and things get smarter. The criminals are also getting smarter, and it’s always cat and mouse. But we’re slowly but surely moving towards safety.

Hari Ravichandran’s book Intelligent Safety: How To Protect Your Family from Big Cybercrime releases on April 18th. You can buy it on Amazon or at any bookstore site. You can learn more about Aura at aura.com, and you can find Hari on Twitter and LinkedIn. Feel free to reach out to him, he’s happy to talk.

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