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Personal Data Safety

June 29th, 2011 by Troy Newport

Protect Your Datas!

You may be aware of a number of high profile website hacks over the past few months.  A small group of hackers have wreaked havoc on major websites for entities such as Google, PBS, Bethesda Softworks, Petrobras, AT&T, Sony, the CIA, the U.S. Senate, NATO… the list goes on.  As the internet becomes more intertwined with our daily lives it is important to take a step back and look at potential pitfalls to having our personal information stored out there in cyberspace.

It is almost impossible these days to prevent the storage of your personal information online.  Online banking, online bill pay, online shopping; we place our most valuable information in the hands of major websites.  We assume because they are large, well-known brands that we can let our guard down and trust our personal information is safe.  If we learned any lesson over the past few months, it is that we should be more vigilant.

Is it a Coincidence?

First of all, it’s important to understand that no website is 100% impenetrable from hacking.  It can happen to websites that take extraordinary measures (you noted above the CIA website got hacked, right?)  It is a constant cat and mouse game with hackers, and sometimes the hackers get the cheese.

We also know that technology moves rapidly, and it costs a lot of money to stay ahead of the curve.  From personal experience you may be aware that when times get tough, IT budgets are often one of the first things to get slashed.  Since we’ve been in an economic downturn for a number of years can we surmise that some corporations have cut their IT budgets in an attempt to remain profitable?  Perhaps that’s why we’re starting to see this string of data breaches?  Or maybe it’s just a coincidence and hackers simply got lucky.

What’s the Answer?

I suppose we could cross our fingers and hope Congress passes a meaningful piece of legislation to protect our private information, and then finds a way to efficiently enforce it.  Oh, right, we have an election season coming up in a year and a half… they will likely be too busy acting like a bunch of two-year-olds.  And “cyber security” isn’t sexy enough for news organizations to make money from the coverage, so they will probably be too busy exposing another Weiner or something.

So for now that leaves it up to us.  As consumers we need to stay educated on how to protect ourselves.  If we don’t pay attention and take our own measures to protect our personal information, can we expect others to be more vigilant about it than we?

Password Security

1)  Create secure passwords – a secure password has small and capital letters, numbers and special characters.

2)  Create different passwords for every website – if your data is breached by hackers and posted online, criminals are going to go to popular websites and try to login with the same login credentials.  If you use the same password for Netflix, PayPal, iTunes, Amazon, Verizon, your bank and your email account you’re asking for trouble.

3)   Change your passwords every few months – what’s that you say?  It’s a pain to do that?  You’re right, don’t worry about it.  Changing your passwords every few months is much more painful than a criminal gaining control of your bank account.

4)  Be sure to only share your personal information when absolutely necessary – and never give personal information to someone unless you can confirm their identity.

5)   Never give out your passwords – no website or business should be contacting you by phone or email and asking you for your password.

6)   If you get an email that says “Click Here To Login” do not click the link – instead open your website browser and go directly to their website and login from there.

7)  Be sure to only provide personal information on websites that are SSL-encrypted – that’s the padlock that appears in many popular web browsers.  If there is a problem with the SSL don’t use the website.

8)  Many banking and other critical websites offer free email notifications when certain events occur – tie these notifications to an email address that is received on your phone.


Practice safe surfing!!



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