Jason Nurse, PhD, assistant professor of cybersecurity at University of Kent in the UK. Kent.ac.uk
As millions of people spend more time working or socializing online from home, many are opening the door to scammers. They are doing so by posting photos on social media or taking part in video chats that include portions of their workspaces or other rooms. Some scenes give scammers clues that help them steal money, identities and/or corporate secrets. Before the pandemic, people were more likely to display activities outside the home rather than their now more frequently occupied and possibly enhanced work spaces.
Example: A doctor posted a photo that included his employer-provided computer in the background. A label on the computer listed its serial number and the employer’s IT help-desk phone number—info a scammer could use to pose as the doctor and trick the IT department into helping him access the device.
A home office is a private space—even trusted houseguests rarely enter—so people think little of leaving private information out in the open. Potentially problematic background items that were found in home office photos posted this year include…
Mail. An envelope or package displaying your home address, combined with information in your social-media postings, could help a scammer steal your identity. If the mail is from a financial institution whose name is on the envelope, a scammer could call or e-mail you claiming to work for that company and trick you into revealing account details.
Computer displaying confidential financial or corporate information on the screen. Even if the information is not clearly visible, a scammer might zoom in and be able to make out the details.
Evidence of hobbies and interests. Is memorabilia from your favorite team or a trophy from your past sports endeavors visible? If any of your account passwords is related to one of these interests, sharing the photo will make those passwords far easier to guess. A scammer also may use that knowledge of your interests to establish an online friendship with you, then exploit that bond.
What to do: Before posting a photo on social media or taking part in video chats, check for private information in the background. Limit access to social postings so that only friends can see them.