News of data breaches at major companies, such as Target, Sony, JP Morgan Chase, Anthem, and more have resulted in a tidal wave of security concerns for consumers, businesses and government officials alike. These incidents are a PR nightmare for the businesses involved in the breaches, but they are also a PR opportunity for businesses who can address security issues for businesses and consumers.
We currently exist and thrive in an online world, whereby everything is connected. Recently, news reports surfaced about internet-connected voice-recognition TVs that inadvertently could be spying on your personal conversations, sparking privacy concerns.
And the FBI is reportedly investigating whether a computer data breach led to false tax filings via Turbo Tax.
So, what can you as a consumer do to protect your valuable private information?
Regan Communications Group client Rick Avery, Northeast Region President for Securitas Security Services, has nearly 40 years of experience in the security business. Rick believes that, given the ever growing popularity of Internet-linked media and “smart” devices, it’s high time to revisit, and reiterate, many of the good practices that can mitigate the myriad risks of fraud and ID theft that loom over the Internet.
As Rick advises, “Social networks, on-line companies and mobile computing have become hugely popular, but these venues and activities also are huge sources of identity fraud activity. So Internet users and on-line consumers need to ensure that their network connections are secure, that their devices have updated security, and that they adhere to security-smart ‘good practices’ when on-line, make good use of the tools that are available for the protection of your computers and Smartphones.”
News reporters are hungry for sources when covering stories like these. Regan has recently secured numerous interviews for Rick about security issues, ranging from online shopping concerns during the holiday season, to Super Bowl security concerns, to how local businesses are affected due to extra security in Boston’s Seaport District near the Federal Courthouse during the Tsarnaev/Boston Marathon bombing trial.
But with the recent wave of news about data breaches, Rick prepared the following tips to help protect your identity online:
- Use anti-virus software. Installing anti-virus software and updating it regularly are among the best defenses against cyber attacks. Never open e-mails from anyone you don’t know. To be even safer, scan attachments with anti-virus software before opening them.
- Install a firewall. A firewall is a software program that examines information coming into and leaving the network and only allows authorized traffic to go through. You decide what content is permitted and which should be blocked. Firewalls can also prevent unwanted access to your network.
- Stay current with software updates and security patches. Download fixes as soon as they are available and always back up your data.
- Create and use strong passwords. Passwords are essential to maintaining network security and protecting personal information from prying eyes. Poor passwords are often the weakest link in Internet security: they provide an easy way for hackers to access your digital device so as to unleash a virus or to access sensitive material. There are apps that will assist you in establishing and maintaining good password security.
- Log off when you are done for the day. Your computer system is most vulnerable when connected to the Internet.
- If you suspect that you have become the victim of identity theft, fraud or any other type of criminal act, take quick action in response! Report all suspicious activity to your financial institution(s) and law enforcement, and quickly implement the self-protective response measures recommended by trusted professionals, industry and institutional experts, and law enforcement personnel, in order to limit present and future damages and losses, and to speed recovery and a return to normalcy.
Rick stresses that, in addition to taking the “concrete” computer-security measures recommended above, it also is important to develop and maintain a proactive mindset and a sensibly cautious mental attitude when on the Internet, and to do so before any trouble crops up. Even if the very best security software is loaded on your computer, and you’ve signed-up for the most comprehensive identity protection service around, you’d still be quite prudent to adopt an approach to cyber security akin to the “defensive driving” attitude that should come into play when you’re behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
- Pull your credit reports. Federal law requires the three main credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — to give you a free credit report if your account information has been stolen. Review each report carefully for errors or fraudulent activity; if you find any, go to the reporting institution and fix them. If there’s a chance your Social Security number has been stolen, put a security freeze on your files. By putting a security freeze on your credit reports, you’ll ensure that no one (not even you) can open a new credit account in your name. If you’re not planning on opening any credit accounts in the near future, this could be a smart move, particularly if you’ve been a victim of identity theft in the past; you’re more susceptible to future attacks. When you’re ready to apply for credit again, you can lift the freeze by contacting the credit bureau. At minimum, issue a fraud alert.
- Be skeptical and don’t believe everything you read online. Take appropriate precautions and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taking any action.
- Check the privacy policies of the on-line sites you visit. Some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam.
- Be careful what you post. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, one in every ten employers is viewing profiles on social networking sites and possibly factoring what they see into hiring decisions.
- Always be wary of strangers. The Internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives. Limit the number of people who are allowed to contact you. If you interact with people you don’t know, be cautious about the amount of information you reveal.
- Never forget that the Internet is a public venue. Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing. Once you post information online, you can’t retract it. Even if you remove the information from a site, saved or cached versions may still exist on other people’s computers.
- Keep the amount of personal information that you post on-line to a minimum. Do not post personal information that could make you vulnerable to ID theft. Seemingly common information could prove valuable to an experienced identity thief or hacker. Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions many times use personal information, such as a customer’s birthday, address, or mother’s maiden name for security questions to validate identity in order to access customer accounts. It also is very risky to inform on-line persons, such as Facebook “friends,” about yours or others’ schedule, whereabouts or routines. Doing so can put your property at risk, and possibly place you or your friends and loved ones in physical danger.