How to Protect Yourself in a Dangerous Digital World

We are constantly being bombarded by news of a major security breach that puts our sensitive personal information in jeopardy. There’s a good chance that over the past few years you have implemented some of the recommendations found in news articles, notes sent out by EKS, and other sources. But there’s an even better chance that you have not done enough to secure your privacy and the safety of your data.

Let’s consider two major headlines recently.

The Capital One Data Breach

Capital One, the big credit card issuer, revealed this summer that a hacker broke into the company’s system and stole the Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and other personal data of more than 100-million customers. The bank issued a statement saying it believes “it is unlikely that the information was used for fraud or disseminated by this individual.” That may sound reassuring, but in reality the break-in of what was considered to be one of the most secure financial service companies around should serve as a flashing red light to all of us about how vulnerable we are.

The Equifax Data Breach

Then there was the Equifax breach. One of the largest credit rating agencies, Equifax agreed to pay up to $700-million to settle claims resulting from a data breach last year that exposed the personal information of nearly 150-million people.

The initial news stories about the Equifax settlement indicated that consumers who were affected by the data breach could get either a payment of $125 or free credit monitoring for up to 10 years. So many people opted to take the money that the payment per person is likely to fall well below $100. As a result, many advisers suggest it might be better to take the free credit monitoring instead of the cash. For the first four years, it also covers monitoring at the rival credit monitoring services, TransUnion and Experian. According to The Washington Post, a premium three-bureau credit monitoring service can cost as much as $30 a month, totaling more than $1,400 over four years.

We’ve also seen major data breaches at Facebook, Target, Home Depot, Marriott and many other companies. So, what should you do (without procrastination!), and why is it so important? 

Steps You Should Take to Begin Securing Your Digital Profile

While there is no such thing as perfect security, there are many relatively easy things you can do to take control of your digital world.

Begin by Strengthening Your Passwords – Everywhere!

  • Stop using the same password or four-digit code (your birthday, perhaps?) for multiple accounts. If one gets hacked, they will all likely get hacked.
  • Use two-factor authentication. When logging in to certain accounts, you will receive a six-digit code via text to verify it’s you. It’s worth the extra few seconds to know that if a hacker does steal your password they will still be locked out because they don’t have access to the code, which randomly generates each time you log-in.
  • Use a password manager. These encrypted digital vaults are controlled by a single, strong master password. The system creates and stores unique passwords for each of your accounts. Most of these services offer free versions or are low-cost, and may allow you to sync your credentials across multiple devices, such as your desktop, laptop, phone, and tablet.

    It’s true you have to invest some up-front time to make password managers work properly, because you’ll have to reset each account individually. However, many security experts say that a password manager is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself online. Wirecutter, the product testing service at The New York Times, recommends LastPass and 1Password. Other popular password managers include Dashlane, KeePass, Keeper, RoboPassword, and Sticky Password.

Additional Steps You Can Take to Secure Your Digital Footprint

  • Keep your mobile devices and computers up-to-date with the latest software updates and security patches.
  • Visit encrypted websites. That means the web address begins with https:// (the ‘s’ is what you are looking for), or there is a closed padlock symbol in the address line.
  • Delete unused applications from your phone and tablet, as older apps can pose security risks.
  • Unsubscribe to emails you don’t want.
  • Be wary of suspicious phone calls, emails, and texts asking you to send money or disclosure personal information.
  • Be wary of public Wi-Fi connections, which can expose your private information.  If you must use these connections, avoid accessing your bank account or other sensitive sites.

Remember, our digital privacy is constantly at risk. Criminals can use your stolen data to open accounts and even take out a mortgage in your name, make fraudulent charges, steal your tax return, and hurt your credit score and financial reputation.

As the cyber-security firm Symantec warns, “the theft of personal data can cause great harm.” You’ve been warned. Now is the time to do something about it!

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