Social Media played a big role in my life from the beginning and transformed my perspective on people and life in general. I’m a millennial and somehow I’ve entered this online world gradually. It all started with the old version of Yahoo Messenger, with Hi5, MySpace and then every Social Media platform that followed. Facebook or META, however you want to call it, was huge when I was in College and everyone was obsessed with this platform. Posting updates every day, having a following, and feeling like you need to post about where you are, what you are doing at any given moment in time. Our lives were centered around how many likes we get for a post, how many reactions, comments and we started to change our behavior when a post did not receive the attention we were expecting. I’m guilty of that as well and it took me years to understand how Social Media has affected my mental health.
One interesting aspect when it comes to Social Media back then is the lack of awareness and information we had about cyber security. Us, the commoners, had no concern about the amount of information we were posting about us, from phone numbers to our exact location and so on. We actually wanted everyone to know what we were doing at that exact moment. That was the entire point. There was no afterthought like „Isn’t this a little too much? Is it safe?”.
In retrospect, all the posts from way back when were cringe to say the least. No one taught us about the consequences of posting all our information out there because no one knew how the internet worked. Not our parents, not anyone close to us. The ones who did have that information were not about to divulge that because their main purpose was to get hooked on Social Media. And it worked.
I’m thankful that in time I’ve realized how harmful Social Media can become and how certain people can take advantage of what information you post online and how they can use it against you and in ways that you don’t even realize. From identity theft, to manipulating you to vote in a certain way, controlling the ads you receive on your feed and so on.
Because technology continuously evolved throughout the years, the issues we faced as society got bigger and bigger when it comes to online presence and Social Media. Some of us were living in a bubble for quite some time and when news broke down that Social Media can become very toxic we had a rude awakening, but one that was absolutely necessary. And that’s how I became more interested in cyber security and ways to protect myself from scammers or simply people with shaky morals.
We all know that the algorithm on every Social Media platform is very smart and I’m particularly impressed by the TikTok algorithm. Let me tell you why. Because „it” just knew what I wanted to learn more about and it led me to cyber security talk on this platform. That’s how I got to listen to more and more interviews with Ryan Montgomery. For those of you who are not familiar with Ryan, he’s an entrepreneur, hacker, cyber security God, he joins forces with other hackers to stop scammers and that’s just on a regular Wednesday. I’ve been following Ryan on Social Media for a while and every day I got more and more impressed with the work that he’s doing. Educating people around the world on what to be on the lookout for when it comes to scammers, helping law enforcement to stop child predators and so much more. I didn’t need any more reasons to send him an email with an interview proposal and now here we are.
Ryan answered a few questions I had in mind about cyber security, how to deal with scammers and we even found out what TV show he enjoys the most to watch.
All the information in the interview below.
Have a read.
Before you knew all this information about cyber security and hacking, was there a situation where anyone tried to scam you in any way? How did you handle that?
I can’t recall a time when someone tried to scam me, other than something common like getting my credit card skimmed at a gas station. My background in cyber security has educated me about many of the scams in their infancy. However, the world of cyber threats is ever-changing, so vigilance is key.
Let’s talk for a bit about victim blaming when it comes to online scamming. How should we approach this situation in your opinion? Who is more to blame and how should people deal with the feeling of being embarrassed by what happened?
Victim blaming is a toxic cycle that needs to be broken. People are tricked because scammers are skilled at deception. While individuals should practice caution, the primary blame falls on the scammer. If you feel embarrassed as a victim, know that in 2022, $8.8 billion was stolen by scammers. You’re not alone!
We have this scenario: you got scammed by a website selling you something inexistent, or you bought a vacation from a no-name website and there is no vacation for you to go to because it’s fake. People get caught up in the feeling of „Oh my God, I cannot miss out on this opportunity” and they forget to do their research. What can you do next to discover who is behind the scam? Where can you go to? And is there any way to get justice and get your money back?
If you’ve fallen victim to a scam, your first step should be to report it to your bank and local authorities. Forensic teams can sometimes trace the source. At https://pentester.com, we scan the dark web and public data sources to look for traces of your identity. The smaller your digital footprint, the less likely you’ll become a target.
People get scammed from all over the world, from all places and countries. Did you find that scammers have different approaches for different cultures? Did you notice if they use specific methods for Europe for instance and other methods for the US?
Absolutely, scammers adapt their tactics based on cultural nuances. In Europe, scams might exploit GDPR fears, while in the U.S., scammers may play on concerns over identity theft.
From your expertise, are people getting wiser and knowledgeable and don’t fall so easily into a scammer’s trap? And what are the top 5 things to look out for when it comes to online scamming?
To some extent, yes, but new techniques emerge all the time. Here are 5 things to look out for:
Unexpected emails or messages (if it looks too good to be true, it probably is)
Pressure tactics urging immediate action
Spelling and grammatical errors in official communications
Requests for personal or financial information
URLs that don’t match the supposed sender or company
Hacking from my point of view is the closest thing we have to magic. Can you „divulge” any rules this world has, that us, the commoners, we might not know about?
Hacking does have a certain „magic” feel to it. It takes a lot of dedication and a certain mindset to dedicate your life to the field. I believe some universal rules apply to all types of hackers (whitehat, greyhat, blackhat):
Don’t SWAT people
Don’t rob the elderly
Don’t mess with kids
From what you’ve heard and experienced, what motivates someone to hack random accounts, or websites (of a public figure or government)? It’s simply because they can, could it be for ego?
Motives range from financial gain to ideological beliefs or the thrill of the challenge. It could be for ego, a political statement, or even state-sponsored activities.
One topic you speak about on your Social Media accounts is child safety. Please for the people who don’t know, tell us more about Sentinel Foundation and what it does.
On my social media accounts (Instagram @0day / TikTok @0dayCTF), I often talk about child safety. I serve as the CTO for the Sentinel Foundation. We focus on online safety, particularly for children, by creating awareness campaigns, offering resources for parents, and collaborating with law enforcement both domestically and internationally.
What does a hacker do for fun? When you’re not involved in extremely important situations, how do you relax and unwind?
For fun, I like to compete in Capture the Flag challenges (CTF). It’s a way to sharpen my skills while having a good time and staying out of prison! I also enjoy teaching and mentoring as a way to give back to the community that gave so much to me!
What is your favorite book, the books that you would 110% recommend everyone to read and what is your favorite TV show to watch? (movie, series or documentary). – bonus points if it’s a „guilty pleasure”.
I don’t have a single favorite book, I believe that many contribute to personal growth. As for my favorite TV show, it’s Money Heist. It’s the only show I’ve watched that’s dubbed in English, and I was hooked on every episode. I’m not sure if that counts as a „guilty pleasure”, but I’m not ashamed to admit it!