Today’s news is full of stories of threats to our online privacy and information security. Reports of major retailers having their sales systems compromised and hackers breaching movie studios are commonplace. Government databases with personal, sensitive data are dumped in the public en mass from time to time. Last year, 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft. These crimes resulted in billions in losses for both businesses and the public and impacted over 7% of Americans age 16 and over.
Risks to your privacy, identity and good name are significant. These risks increase as we use the Internet and mobile technology with greater frequency. There are, however, several key steps any technology user can take to profoundly lower their risk of identity theft and boost their privacy.
- Use a password manager:
Password managers are software applications (or apps) that make it effortless to have a unique and secure password for every website and service. The beauty of them is if one site or service is hacked or compromised, your other accounts are secure. After all, it’s never a good idea to use a common password for multiple accounts.
- Use GPS on mobile devices sparingly:
GPS, or Global Positioning System, permits your phone or tablet to pinpoint its location, anywhere on Earth. In addition to using battery power, GPS coordinates could permit app developers, marketing companies, or malicious entities to know where you are with greater frequency.
- Be careful which Wi-Fi networks you join:
Users should be especially careful when selecting Wi-Fi networks for online connections. An open network, without a security key, should not be an invitation to join. Attaching your computer or device to a network (secure and unsecure) permits individuals running that network to monitor your data and activity. It is not uncommon for crafty individuals to run a fake network specifically geared toward stealing sensitive data. Only join wireless networks with security enabled and those that are deemed “official” and “trusted.”
- Read the access privilege requests for mobile applications carefully:
Many applications for mobile devices are free. These apps, and services, are free because the company behind them hopes to derive some value from you, the user. Social networks and free-to-play games don’t produce their apps out of the goodness of their hearts. They are there to make money. These companies thrive from obtaining your data including your personal information, interests and your social connections. Apps and games will request permission for certain types of data on your device. Read these notices carefully. If something seems suspicious, cancel and remove the application.
- Always guard your date of birth and telephone number:
Be very careful when, where and how you share your date of birth. This key bit of information, alongside your full name is a vital component of identity theft. Many companies and services use birth date for security verification. Compromising it opens the door to a world of problems. Likewise, your phone number, both home and cell, factor into many cases of identity theft. Be especially cautious with this
- Keep your professional and personal presences separate:
If you have email through your employer, keep online use work related. Your employer has the indefinite right to archive and access any communication with this account. You should always keep your private and personal emails separate and on a secure system. More importantly, by keeping work email free from personal information, you lessen your risk of a privacy breach. You never know if someone with access to those work emails has ill intentions, long after you depart.
- Always use encryption:
Encryption is your best friend. Encryption technologies keep our information private, secure and free from external, prying eyes. Many services such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and others offer “always-on” encrypted connections. You should look for settings in these accounts that force a secure connection. Additionally, some browsers support extensions that request secure connections from visited websites.
CCWA offers other training, including webinars on mobile and web information security. You can review and register for these trainings online with CCWA.
Authored by: Dave Morales, Director of Information Technology, Community College Workforce Alliance