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Cyber security experts at live-hacking event offer warnings about what people post online

Hackers participate in WMCAT's Purple Event on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (WWMT/Jake Berent)
Hackers participate in WMCAT's Purple Event on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (WWMT/Jake Berent)
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As Facebook friends populated cyberspace with photos depicting them at advanced ages, a host of cybersecurity experts were meeting in Grand Rapids on Wednesday.

Known as a Purple Event, the gathering included a live-hacking demonstration designed to help cybersecurity specialists hone their skills. Some of those attending offered advice about how much we share about ourselves on digital platforms.

"It’s about using sound judgment. If it’s something you wouldn’t tell your friends, or you wouldn’t say in public, you probably should not post online," said Abraham Jones, a member of the consortium sponsoring the event. "Because a lot of times you don’t know who else is re-posting that or who has visibility to it."

With the rise in popularity of the FaceApp and other social trends that ask for pictures and personal information, or track your location, Jones advises a cautious approach.

"I understand that theses things that are just fun to do, and activities that you want to engage in, but you always have to understand what is that data going to be used for. How is that data going to be used, and what could that data tell somebody," Jones said.

The FaceApp asks for permission to use photos from users, and transforms their photos to make them seem younger or older. Most apps have terms of service you must agree to before using the app, and Jones said the details can be frightening, if you actually take the time to read them.

"Contracts are something that most of us just click and just say yeah, OK. Those are ULA’s [User Licensing Agreements] for people to own this data. And what you’re doing is saying hey, you have access to my data and you can do whatever you want with it. And they might outline what they’re actually going to do, but you didn’t actually read it. You just said OK and signed it. I know you could find yourself in a problem if your data is up somewhere that you don’t know," Jones said.

You could pop up on a commercial or a billboard somewhere, and have no control over how your image is used. Jones said if your picture is used in a successful ad, because you agreed to their terms of service, you might never see a dime for the use of your image transmitted to millions of people worldwide.

Other problems arise when trendy online quizzes and nickname generators make their way through social media sites, and ask for information that's commonly used as security questions for important accounts such as your online banking system or email address.

"Think about the backup security questions to get in to your online bank account, They ask what street did you grow up on, or what was your dogs name, that’s the kind of questions that they are trying to get from you and now they have information about you. If you’re just posting that online, I can see who you are, I can see what you like, I know your children’s names, I know your dog's name. I can start putting those into the guessing generators, to try and break your password. And now I can get into your accounts. That’s typically how it happens," Jones said.

Held at the Cyber Hub at the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology in Grand Rapids, the event was open to the public and organized by the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium. Participants included some of the region's top cybersecurity professionals. The center tries to educate, identify and recruit cyber professionals and create an environment for them to learn and grow. They also have classes and events for people with less experience who want to learn more about cybersecurity.

“This is a rare opportunity for cybersecurity professionals to engage and learn from each other in a neutral location,” Jones said in a written announcement prior to the event. “We are fortunate that we now have Michigan’s only neutral cyber hub, the Cyber Hub at WMCAT, right here in our community to house our event. With the sector being highly competitive, it allows us to gather in one place to watch the ‘best of the best’ practice and compete in their field – many of whom are on the front lines of defending our state from cyberattacks.”

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Consortium members said the cybersecurity sector is growing, and Michigan is ranked third in the nation for growth potential, behind California and Texas. Currently, there are more than 6,800 job openings according to CyberSeek, a workforce and career resource agency.

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