“I am so happy I don’t have to hear that noise” is the common reaction many have when reminded of what it used to sound like to get the internet running on your computer.

But the dial up days are long gone. Now just one click can change everything.

Detective Trooper Brett Nichols works in the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit.

“Internet changes every day, technology changes every day,” he said.

He added any crime these days has something to do with technology, which has everything to do with your digital footprint.

“You walk around in your community, you talk to people in person, you visit stores, how you behave in the community kind of identifies who you are, a digital footprint is the same thing, it just identifies who you are online,” said Detective Trooper Nichols.

Not even the delete button can erase your digital footprint.

“It’s out there forever, even if you regret having posted it, it’s out of your control what happens,” he said.

That innocent picture you sent a friend or posted online stores more information than meets the eye.

“What type of device took the picture, the time and date the picture was taken, it can even get as detailed as the exact geocoordinates of where the picture was taken,” Detective Trooper Nichols explained.

The internet can lead people right to your front door, or right into your bank account, for example, if you’re on an open WiFi network.

“Someone can watch what you’re typing and collect all that information,” he said.

He says you’re more protected at home if you use the right privacy settings, but he has seen cases where that doesn’t stop everyone.

Many cyber criminals look for opportunities to strike.

“There are people who drive around with their computer open or with their phone on, and they drive around until they find WiFi,” Detective Trooper Nichols said.

And it’s not just prive internet users.

“It’s businesses too, they have a lot more to protect sometimes,” he said.

Jim Kalajian, president and COO of Jenkins Group, can attest.

“I was down to my last moments of sanity,” Kalajian described.

Jenkins Group is a custom book publishing services firm in Traverse City with clients all over the world.

“We had this message on our server that said ‘send x number of bitcoin to this address and we will provide you the code to unlock your data,’” he described. “The number was big.”

That’s known as a “ransomware” attack. It’s a threat to hold your information hostage unless you pay up.

“The thought of having to start over was pretty crippling, I mean it was almost to the point of tears and I am not a guy who cries about business, it’s terrifying,” he said.

Jim didn’t pay. Jim found a fix with Advanced Computer Solutions in Traverse City.

ACS president Albert Steed says it can shut down your business.

“Basically whitewashing the computer, we wipe it all clean, we remove everything, then we rebuilt it, it’s a lot of work, copying the data back on the machine,” described Steed.

But one time work followed Albert home when his wife bought a tool to filter online content for their kids.

“Oh crud,”said Steed.

Within two weeks, they had credit cards, passwords, everything, stolen.

“It was a disaster,” he said.

Three years later and his wife still cannot access her Kohl’s account.

“You put your trust in some sort of device that is supposed to enhance your security and it does the exact opposite,” he described.

These cyber criminals aren’t always right in your backyard.

“There was this flaw in routers, the Russians had basically infiltrated a giant percentage…if the device you have on your network is older than three years it probably has this vulnerability and it has probably been exploited.

People all over the world can target you with the tools most of us use every single day.

“They don’t know you’re in Traverse City or New York or LA or Debuke, they don’t know, they just know you’re on the internet,” said Steed.

Nothing can totally prevent your digital downfall but being mindful of your digital footprint is the first step. Some ways to protect yourself can be found in your privacy settings, creating new passwords, two-factor authentication, and having a backup of your work.

To contact Advanced Computer Solutions in Traverse City, call 231-933-6333, or head to their website here.

For more information to contact the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit, click here.

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