When something shocking happens in the world, it is normal to wonder about the details. An earthquake with fatalities, a celebrity death, or the spread of a potentially deadly virus are examples of stories most people are at least mildly curious about. We hear about these stories via the news, from friends and colleagues, or from emails and social notifications.

It is these latter ways of gathering information that often present risk to your privacy and data security. This blog covers 3 things you can do to reduce your risk and increase your security when a scandalous story breaks.

3 Ways to Protect Yourself from Scandalous Stories


The purpose of this post is to help protect you while being informed because the more informed you are the better decisions you will make. The following tips and tricks are things you can employ to reduce your chance of receiving malware, Ransomware, or other types of infections that put your data or privacy at risk.

#1 - Keep emotions out of your decisions

Pressure and emotion often play a very big part in users getting infected with malware. Offenders prey on your emotions, using it as a weakness. The purpose of playing on our emotions is to get us to make poor decisions. Not taking enough time to really consider what we are doing allows them to lead us down a path we would otherwise probably avoid. Once you are infected, they may have access to your device, information and files on your devices, keys typed, or more.

If you get a call, email, or any sort of message that employs a great deal of pressure, slow down before reacting. These attacks can be simple or elaborate, but they all boil down to trying to make you react  out of fear or stress but without thinking first.

For example, I once received a call from someone who stated they worked for a very large tech company and said someone was trying to hack one of my partners' accounts with a large online retailer. The caller began asking me a bunch of questions and wanted me to clarify personal information about my partner. When I asked for a call back number to verify the caller's validity, the caller got angry with me, acting like I was going to cause my partner harm because I "was not helping them".

When they asked me for my partners phone number I replied with the exact same answer they gave me - "That I was not authorized to give that kind of information". Eventually the stalemate ended with them hanging up on me because I refused to give them the information they were hoping to procure. Their actions confirmed I was right, that they were not who they said they were.

Unfortunately, these kinds of calls happen ALL THE TIME. Luckily, I did not trust who they said they were and did not let them push me into giving away information I should not have. If I had given them personal information, they probably would have gotten away with ordering something using my partner's account as we later found pending fraudulent charges that were not fully processed or approved.

On this call I received, the caller used the following common tactics:

  • Persistency - insisting the situation was very serious and that by not giving them what they asked for instantly, I was hurting my partner.
  • Speed - speaking fast and with authority, almost demanding information, which artificially increased the severity of the situation.
  • Confusion - accusing me of not wanting to help them protect my partner when I would not give up personal information regardless of how pushy they were.
  • Ignorance - telling me they could not give me any information because I was not authorized though they called my number. Also, the inability to give me a call back number "because they did not control the system" etc., were all big warning signs.

I share the example above because emails can often include many of the same tactics. Pushing you to make a decision before you have time to think about what you are doing or the potential consequences.

Takeaway: Keeping your wits about you, control the tempo of the call or rereading the email looking for clues can be the small thing that gives your brain time to catch up with your emotions. This will help you make the right decision and can protect you from sharing personal information with the wrong person.

#2 - Go directly to online stories

This is one of those pieces of advice you may have already seen or heard from me, but it is absolutely worth saying again. If you get an email with headlines about some shocking new story or epidemic, go to a reliable news source and find the information directly. If it is a big story, most online news sources will be representing it and you can find the information there. Offenders often use clickbait emails to take advantage of scandalous stories in hopes of getting you to open the email or click a link so they can infect your device.

Takeaway: Be cautious of emails from places you have not subscribed to and even those you have. If an email does not look quite right, check the sender to make sure it really is coming from the company it says it is. Don't open anything suspect and go directly to the story instead.

#3 - Refrain from going down the rabbit hole

How many times have you started out reading an online article before finding yourself 30 minutes later on a story you can't even remember how you got to? Most online sites with news stories have links to other stories embedded in them. Unfortunately, sometimes these links are malicious.

Example of article and ad links at the bottom of a typical online article. This is not to say any of these ads are malicious, but rather this is an example of how links for additional stories are built-in to many sites.

Offenders target websites with links to other stories because they come with a built-in audience. You are already there reading, why not click another link? As a rule, this is definitely something you should avoid. Refer to rule #2 above!

Takeaway: Clicking links from within online news stories can often present threats to your device. Instead of clicking from story to story to story, search a valid news source or use a search engine to find a reliable news source who posted about the story you want to learn more about.

Stories that shock us and affect our emotions will not go away anytime soon. The key to protecting your data privacy and device security is in how you respond to these stories. Slowing down before making a decision, whether it is clicking on a link in an email, on a website, or giving out information over the phone, gives your brain the time it needs to fully process what you are doing before emotions push you to react. Going directly to online stories written by reputable sources is always a safer way to access the information.

As always, having information available on a moment's notice is helpful, just be sure you know who the information is coming from and that it is a trustworthy source.