Friday, August 28, 2015

Four Important Security Tips

One of the most difficult things to protect is data security.  Whether in the form of files on computers, or personal identity, there is no doubt there are threats to the security of our information all around us.  The following is a list of four tips to help address personal security in an effort to protect personal files, identity and privacy.  

Using an ATM pin as a Phone's Unlock Code
I cannot stress enough how important it is to use different passwords and codes for different items.  However, using different codes for ATM cards and smartphones is probably the single most important instance of this.  While it might be difficult for someone to shoulder surf at the supermarket or while getting gas to procure someone's ATM pin, people are logging into smartphones hundreds of times each day.  Most of the time we rarely think twice about who is around or who might be looking when unlocking our phones which is a serious mistake if the code is also used as an ATM pin.

Make sure the code used on a smartphone is not used anywhere else!

Information Inadvertently Hidden in Pictures
Having a camera at the ready 24/7 via a smartphone is an incredible luxury.  The ability to take pictures right after an accident, to catch the best sunset ever seen and to video our favorite band performing on stage easily makes the camera one of the best and most used features of smartphones.

At the same time, having a camera connected to social media accounts makes it way to easy to mistakenly give away more information than intended.  Pictures grab whatever is in the background whether we are paying attention or not making it easy to accidentally overshare.  Unlike Vegas, once pictures exist on the Internet the information can be copied, re-posted and shared an infinite number of times.

Here are some examples of items often overlooked in pictures that can cause issues:

  • Mail - postal mail shows your address and can threaten the security of your home.
  • Sticky notes - sticky notes often contain email addresses, user id's, or passwords.  All of these can put personal accounts and identities at risk.  This is especially dangerous when the information is recycled for various accounts.
  • Calendars - although most people do not use paper calendars anymore, those that do usually write down planned vacations and time away from the house which can put items and people staying in their home at risk.  
  • Favorite hobbies / personal interests - people often use their favorite athlete / author / artist / musician / chef / fill-in-the-blank in part or whole as a password.  A picture with seven books by the same author in the background might lead someone to try using this author's name as a password to hack into an account.  If you create passwords this way, which is not recommended, posting photos showing information about your interests can pose a serious threat.  Instead, use our guidelines for creating effective passwords.

Notifying Social Media Sites of your Whereabouts
If everyone on Facebook knows where you are, they also know where you are not.  Posting to any social media site, however strong the desire to share the picture of you catching a fly ball at Fenway Park may be, lets everyone know you are not at home.  Additional browsing of your social media information and photos might give someone enough information to ascertain whether or not anyone is at your home and how long the home will be vacant.

Instead of posting these pictures immediately, wait until the trip is over to post pictures of every great place you visited and thing you saw while away.  People will still be able to enjoy the experiences you had, but your home will be safer for doing this.  If you want to be really clear, add information to your posts to be clear you are back home.  For example, "Had a great time on vacation last week", or "So glad we visited X, we will definitely be going back again!".  This small bit of information can keep your home from becoming a target.

Recycling User ID's and Passwords
The more frequently a user id or password is recycled, the more likely it is for an account to be compromised.  Imagine you used a single key for each door with a lock in your house and it also worked for each vehicle, any mailboxes, and the office.  What would happen if the key was lost or misplaced?  Or worst yet, what if someone was able to make a copy without your knowledge?  Every one of those items would be at risk instead of just one of them.  

Recycling user id's and passwords works like this.  When an account gets hacked, the credentials used can be tried to gain access to more accounts.  One of these accounts might have personal or business emails, bank account information, or credit cards stored on file.  The ramifications from having an account compromised are endless.

Regardless of the types of files you have, where you live or who you are, protecting your personal files, identity and privacy is important.  Nobody wants to fight to prove they did not take out a loan they never heard of, or that they did not order thousands of dollars worth of stuff they could never use or come home to a home emptied out.  While nothing is full proof, the security tips above are good steps toward protecting everything that matters to you.

As always, stay safe!

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