Brad Hernandez of Spring Grove will host a free presentation of internet security/privacy at the Spring Grove Public Library on April 3. PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Brad Hernandez of Spring Grove will host a free presentation of internet security/privacy at the Spring Grove Public Library on April 3. PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Brad Hernandez sat at his dining room table, a notebook computer within easy reach. "Our whole lives revolve around all of the technology that we have nowadays," he said.

Spring Grove resident Hernandez has worked for years in the tech industry, tackling security concerns as well as networking, telecommunications and software development. He's reserved the conference room of the Spring Grove Public Library on April 3 at 6:00 p.m., where he'll provide a free presentation on security issues for individuals and families.

"The security aspect is everywhere," Hernandez noted. "For most people it's related to Internet use... I had to cancel a credit card due to a fraud alert.

"If a stranger came up to you on the street and said, 'Can I have your date of birth and your social security number?' you would never agree to that. But oftentimes with things like social networking sites, you are.

"One thing that I want to stress with this presentation is that a lot of people might think 'I don't have any enemies, I live in a small community, I don't know anybody who's a hacker, so I'm not anybody's target.' But it's not about a specific individual. It's about the system as a whole. For hackers, it's about 'where can I exploit a weakness?'

"They're making an effort to try to secure your access, and you're providing the information that's making it easy to get."

Hernandez said that due to many common activities, such as using the same password for lots of different accounts, computer users can become easy targets.

"You may log on to your local email, Amazon, Ebay, or whatever, even your bank using the same password," he explained. "One thing that we're now seeing is sites requiring that you use a more complicated password, and utilizing multi-faceted factor identification. Without those types of safeguards, getting access to your bank account can be pretty simple.

"Also, if we were friends on some social networking site - it's all there - where you live, where you grew up, where you went to school, what your birthday is... That information just has a domino effect. Hackers can take one piece of legitimate information and just build on it. Before you know it, they are in control."

Victims often see charges made to their financial accounts, credit scores damaged, or worse.

"Am I putting information out there that I shouldn't?" Hernandez asked. "For example, if you and I are Friends on Facebook, and your settings allow it, there's a vast network of people who can get information on you and what you're doing.

"If I'm your friend, it isn't so much that I'm going to break into your house when you post a message to me that you're going to be out of the country for a week on vacation. It's the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who may unwittingly pass that information on to someone who will use it to rob you.... They can easily find out where you live, and they know you're not going to be home."

The list of tech crimes is endless. Zombie viruses, the one-ring callback scam, all sorts of malicious software, having your "online identity" erased, social network bullying, identity theft, the grandparent scam, stolen credit cards...

"Some people might listen to what I've got to say and think, 'This isn't going to happen to me.' And you know what? There's a pretty good chance that they're right."

However, Hernandez said that for far too many people, learning just how easy it is to become a victim comes too late.

"I decided to do this just so people can become informed," he said. "To me, it's no different than seeing your neighbor come into the house with six bags of groceries. You just run over there and offer to help out.

"I think it's just like anybody else that has a skill... Maybe you're an auto mechanic and you agree to drive a friend's car and listen to a noise that's bothering them. Maybe they're not going to be able to fix the problem for you, but that mechanic can at least let you know what's going on. For me, it's about just being aware, about being informed so you can make your own decisions.

"I'm not a saint or anything like that. Just a guy sharing some information with my neighbors. It's about being part of your community. You don't want to hear some story about your neighbor getting scammed.

"The main thing is, we can't afford to become complacent just because we're running antivirus software. It all gets back to avoiding risky behavior."