Michigan tech whiz talks new fraud threats

Posted on 03/31/24 by Rita Beamish

In the mid-1980s, when Dan Lohrmann first entered the world of surveillance as a computer systems analyst at the National Security Agency, he quickly saw that cybercrime would not be a fleeting threat.

But what’s dramatic even to Lohrmann—now a speaker, writer and cybersecurity consultant to state and local governments and companies—is the warp-speed acceleration of artificial intelligence.

That’s “turbocharging” the crime landscape, he says. Aside from its benefits, generative AI helps criminals spread misinformation and steal money in new and more sophisticated ways.

“The amount of fraud is just exploding,” says Lohrmann, 61, who lives in Holt, south of Lansing. Wrongdoers will always “try and use something good—like a smartphone—for evil.”

Lohrmann is a go-to cyber-security expert for AARP Michigan, says State Director Paula D. Cunningham. He consults with AARP on the latest scams targeting older adults and has shared his expertise on the group’s Real Possibilities TV show (available at states.aarp.org/michigan/aarp-real-possibilities-tv).

A father of four and husband to a teacher, Lohrmann gets pumped up when he talks about keeping people and companies safe online. The former college quarterback often compares cybersecurity to football, saying it’s crucial in both arenas to think through an adversary’s playbook, know your own weaknesses and not get overconfident.

“I really find satisfaction in helping people,” he says of what drives him to do cybersecurity work. Plus, it’s never dull: Criminals are constantly finding new ways to breach online defenses.

According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, nearly 500,000 Americans were victims of cybercrime in 2022, including 13,566 reports from Michigan with estimated losses of $178 million. The crimes ranged from personal data breaches to investment schemes. The Federal Trade Commission, which tallies additional types of fraud, says Americans reported losing more than $10 billion to fraud in 2023.

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Graphic by Nicolas Rapp

Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs at AARP, says generative AI “just ups the game,” including when scammers vacuum up online information about people to tailor fraudulent phishing emails and texts. It’s impossible to know how often scams now use AI, she says, but it “makes faking things so much easier.”

Lohrmann notes that crooks are now using AI tools to sharpen their swindles involving fake calls. They can replicate the voice of a loved one, using just seconds of audio captured from social media or a phone call, and deceive family members into believing a grandson needs bailing out of jail or a daughter is in a jam.

Impostors can “seem very, very legitimate,” he says.

Staying safe online

In addition to his early days at the NSA’s secretive and sprawling headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, Lohrmann has worked for U.S. defense firms and advised federal policymakers. And he’s held several different roles in Michigan government, including serving as the state’s first chief information security officer.

His background in cybersecurity and intelligence made him a natural fit to help Michigan ensure the state’s databases were secure from malicious attacks and to keep residents’ information safe—whether they were going online for driver’s licenses or campground reservations.

Now a chief information security officer at an IT services and consulting firm, Lohrmann says ransomware attacks are quite common. A client company of his was hit and had to shut down its computers for almost a month while securely rebuilding its network. Crooks had gained access after an employee used the same password for both his work and personal email accounts; a data breach compromised the latter.

Such breaches underscore the need for two-factor authentication—such as getting an extra log-in code after entering a password. People “need to go the extra mile” to avoid fraud and ensure their accounts are secure, he says.

Rita Beamish, based in California, is a former Associated Press reporter and San Francisco Chronicle editor. She has written for the Bulletin for 15 years.

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