Practical Tips For Protecting Your Data From Theft During The Holidays

Data Theft climbed 30% in 2013. An astonishing 18% of Americans have been victim of data theft, meaning that they have had important personal data stolen from their computers, laptops or mobile devices. The data theft has ranged from passwords, names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, credit card data, bank account information, investment, privileged business information and proprietary data. With mobile device usage on the rise, data theft is expanding both in scope and reach.

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Today it is not just hackers one has to worry about, but also the NSA as revealed by Edward Snowden. Software in today’s market is often rife with security holes, as evidenced by the recent Heartbleed bug, which was serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL, which led to massive data theft.

Adults of all age groups are reporting more incidents of data theft. 15% of young adults reported incidents of data theft in 2013, compared to 7% in 2012, while adults aged 50 to 64 reported data theft at a rate of 20% in 2013 compared to only 11% in 2012. Risk wise older adults are most likely to fall victim to data theft. Online and computer usage is now a deeply ingrained and embedded facet of life in America, but individuals and corporations are slow to react to today’s threats when it comes to data theft.

The following are targets for thieves and intruders:

USB thumb drive
3G mobile phone network
Wireless LAN
Removable hard disk
Notebook computer
Portable personal digital device like MP3, PDA, Phones
Printer output etc.
Personal information such as bank account or details
Customer database
Confidential or sensitive business information e.g. tender information and quoted prices.

Email is to blame for a large portion of data theft. Email is not encrypted so if it is intercepted any confidential information within could be breached with ease. Any emails with personal information such as passwords, credit card information etc should be encrypted. Aside from capturing your email content and attachments, a hacker could take over your entire email account. There is software available which will encrypt your email, such as Entrust or Appriver. There are many providers of encrypted email services available online, many of them being free to use.

Install encryption on all laptops, mobile devices, flash drives and backup tapes, and encrypt emails that contain sensitive information. Any documents on your computer should be encrypted as well. Windows based computers have software installed to encrypt your data, or you could use 3rd party software to secure your data. If a computer gets compromised, any un-encryted data can be vulnerable to data theft, while strongly encrypted data is worthless to a data thief. Never write login information on a sticky note or in a text file that is not encrypted.

Another method to help guard against data theft is to use a very strong and complex password. A example of a poor password would be: ej5757, while a good example of a strong password would be Ej_*43H8&aq34!@s. Strong passwords can be a pain to remember yes, but it makes it much harder for a hacker to gain access to your accounts. It is also very highly recommended that you use a different password for each website that requires a login. While remembering all your passwords can be a hassle, you can make use of a secure password manager to make it simple. You should also change your most important passwords on a regular basis, email passwords and banking passwords monthly for example.

Properly dispose of sensitive data. Always use a program to scrub hard drive, flash drive, USB storage devices and external hard drives. Shred any documents that contain any sensitive data prior. Data thieves will often harvest information from old computers, USB devices and documents which were not disposed of properly.

When you install software, beware of any 3rd party software that is being installed when you install the primary software. Many software companies today are bundling software from malaware providers to help cover their own costs. Watch out for any check box that asks to install a third-party program or most commonly a toolbar, these 3rd party pieces of software often cause more harm than good and are usually not required to install the software.

If you use wireless internet or mobile internet you need to protect yourself and your network. With the availability of wireless internet and inexpensive equipment comes number of potential attacks, both passive and active. Attacks can enable intruders to eavesdrop on or steal data from wireless transmissions and mobile devices. If you use a home based wireless internet be sure to password protect your router and internet connection. Keep Your Wireless Network Interface Card Drivers Up-to-date. Protect your device with anti-virus software and always keep this software up to date, I suggest checking for updates every week. Turn off any resource Sharing protocols on your mobile devices as these are huge security holes. Disable your Wireless Connection When it is not in use, as they announce their presence to attackers when turned on. These are just a few tips to protect your wireless network.

Be aware of what processes are running on your computer. If you use windows based computers you can always press control + Alt + Delete to start the task manager and look at what apps and programs are currently running on your PC. If you see something odd look it up online to verify what it is, if it is malaware or an unwanted program you can remove it via add and remove programs.

Lastly update your software on a regular basis, including OS software and firmware.Attackers love to find outdated vulnerabilities in software, firmware, and browser plugins such as Adobe Flash.

A little bit of common sense and some preventative forethought can save your data from being stolen or breached. In today’s day and age securing your data is no different than locking your homes door when you got to bed or locking your car door when you leave your car parked. You would never leave your car or home unsecured so why leave your data unsecured?

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