How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Email Hacking

BY Dan Sagalyn  July 8, 2013 at 8:10 AM EDT

Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike demonstrates how an email message can allow hackers to access your computer.

Have you ever received an email that looked legitimate, but seemed suspicious? Perhaps the message asked you to reschedule a delivery from FedEx or DHL, when you knew no actual delivery was on the way. Or maybe you received an email from your bank urging you to “click HERE” to verify information on your account.

These phony communications are often the work of hackers based in Russia or Eastern Europe. The emails are designed to fool users into downloading malicious software which enables the hackers to log key strokes and gain access to their personal computer data, according to Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of the cyber security firm CrowdStrike.

One way to identify a legitimate message is to carefully examine the sender’s address in the received email. If it’s not from an official company email address, be suspicious and don’t open attachments or click on links. (Watch the video above for more tips from Alperovitch.)

But in some cases, hackers are searching for much more than credit card numbers and passwords. The same technique a hacker might use to steal your credit card number from your inbox can be used to steal secrets from a multinational corporation, or sensitive information from a top-secret government agency.

There is growing frustration in the Obama administration, on Capitol Hill and among U.S. industries over what they claim is China’s stealing of American intellectual property–most likely over the internet.

Many attacks on the computer networks of U.S. companies, government agencies and media companies have been traced back to China. Leaders from both countries are meeting in Washington this week as part of their biannual strategic and economic dialogue. For the first time ever, the issue of cyber activity is on the agenda. Ray Suarez reports on this on tonight’s PBS NewsHour.

Daniel Sagalyn is the deputy editor of foreign affairs for PBS NewsHour.