Maria Genova on her book 'Komt een vrouw bij de h@cker' (Dutch Edition, translation is 'A woman visits the h@cker')


Identity fraud. 500 Dutch people experience it every day. A nightmare! For example, you might not just lose your name, you could end up losing control over your bank account. Whoever thinks this could never happen to them should have a chat with Maria Genova. Even better: read her book. In 'Komt een vrouw bij de h@cker' she writes about how vulnerable we all are.

Why did you decide to write the book?

'I read increasingly more reports about identity fraud. I wondered if all of the victims had been careless. But, after some brief research I found out that it is surprisingly simple to steal someone's identity. I felt the story needed to be told.'

Have you ever been a victim?

'Not really. I didn't want to write a book from a victim's perspective, but from my own amazement and to try and open people's eyes. It reads like a true crime novel, with sometimes funny stories. For example, a detainee who was set free because of a fake email. But there are also tragic stories, like the man who ended up with 1700 cars registered to him due to identity fraud. Because of this he lost his benefits, ended up homeless and it took him 17 years to repair the damage and clear his name.'

Should we be afraid?

'Take reassurance from the fact you can do a lot to protect your privacy. See it as your own home. Install good locks and then thieves can't break it so quickly. The same principle applies to your computer. Only, lots of people forget to organise protection. Like leaving the doors and windows open.'

How do you organise better protection?

'I have 3 important tips. To begin with install software updates. You can do this automatically. Ensure that you use strong passwords for logging in. Thirdly, don't click on phishing links. I frequently receive phishing emails from ING or PostNL. If I click on the links, there is a chance that my computer will be infected with spyware – this will give hackers access to my computer. Also, ransomware – my computer gets blocked, so to gain access again I am required to pay the hacker.'

So now you can't be hacked?

'No, hackers can break in everywhere. You just shouldn't make it easy for them. For my book I invited a hacker to break into my computer. He had been convicted, had served his sentence and was still on probation. I thought this was a safe offer – he could hardly cross the line at that moment. I thought I had a well-protected website, but within half an hour he had hacked me.'

Is hacking so easy to do?

'Yes, and that is possibly the most worrying. You don't need to be a nerd to do it. Indeed, at the end of the book, myself a digiphobe, I became a hacker, just by following the steps I found on the internet. As a test I hacked the computer of a friend. I could see all of her details, put her webcam on and follow her at home. It was pretty shocking.'

What were the reactions to your book?

'Very extraordinary. I never expected that this book would become so popular. I am constantly requested to read for audiences. Companies are ordering my book, sometimes hundreds of copies in one go, such as Kaspersky Lab, developers of security software.'

What do you tell people during the readings?

'My readings have the character of a workshop. I try and adapt to the sort of company or organisation, and show the employees the seriousness of hacking. For example, at 44% of town councils there are indications of data leaks. You can hack a nuclear power plant with an iPod. Banks lose vast sums of money through internet crime. I notice that lots of people are shocked. They are reluctant to use the internet, and change passwords and remove their date of birth from Facebook.'

What do you want to achieve?

'For me it's about making people aware of security risks. There is too little attention given to it. The Government should give people more tools to protect themselves better. Educate children about cybercrime. Require a "driving licence" for cyber traffic. Also, lots of companies don't do enough. They invest a lot of money in expensive computer systems, but invest little or nothing in awareness sessions for their employees to learn about security and data.'

Is the problem of cybercrime underestimated?

'Of course. Take identity fraud. Has your national ID number been leaked? Good luck, because there is very little to help you. Politicians only wake up if it directly affects them, for instance if their details are in the spotlight. Via the Land Registry details are available with a simple SMS. You can request information about an address and everything is visible, the mortgage and payments too.'

Have you changed because of the book?

'Yes, I am more alert, without being paranoid. I have organised my security quite well so that I won't easily become a victim of a hacking attempt. For my important files I also have a backup. But still. Recently it almost went wrong. I was in a rush and was waiting for a package to be delivered, and I received an email regarding my delivery. It was a phishing email. In my rush I went to click on the link, but stopped before pressing the button. My mouse hovered over the link, when I saw that it wasn't from PostNL. Hundreds of people are fooled everyday by these fake emails, which use logos from well-known companies, then their computers become locked. For companies the costs are enormous in work hours. This is why it's understandable to invest more in the awareness of employees.'

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