How to Be a Cyber-Security Superhero

The start of a new year is a good time to put something at the forefront of our minds. That’s cybersecurity. 2014 online holiday sales increased 17 percent year-over-year. Increased online shopping increasing the risk of identity theft.

The internet is not the only place where your identity is at risk. With the ever increasing use of credit and debit cards, identity theft can happen when you make a transaction at a store. Consider the two largest data breaches in the last year, Target and Home Depot. Millions of people’s identities were put at risk.

Shopping at brick and mortar stores is even more risky with the increasing use of applications such as Apple’s Mobile Pay. For all this convenience, we give up security.

There are some not-too-difficult steps to take to reduce our risk of identity theft and other breaches with the increasing ease of purchases. These are steps you should take with every online account including banking, investing, email, store profiles, such as amazon.com, target.com and HomeDepot.com social media, etc. We mean EVERY online account.

The need to address all online accounts and profiles is because access to one online account provides enough information for an identity thief to cross-reference our personal information or give them enough information to contact a place we regularly do business to access more information.

Take, for example, email accounts. If an identity thief gains access to our email account, think of how much information they could glean about us. If we’ve established a Yahoo! or Google profile, we probably added our name and possibly our contact information. Buried in our archived emails is information about our birth date. We’ve all sent mass emails as party invitations and used evite.com to announce birthday celebrations.

Also included in our emails may be reminders we’ve sent from our personal emails to our work emails. Finally, many online profiles, such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, use our email addresses or truncated versions of email address as login information. Most LinkedIn profiles include entire education and work histories.

What if an identity thief gained access to our LinkedIn profile? How about Facebook? Facebook often includes names and contact information of family members. Sometimes this includes mothers. With just a little bit of cross-referencing, an identity thief could learn our mother’s maiden name and our birthday. Think of how often these two bits of information are used to verify you us.

Be abnormal. The most common password format used in America is six to eight character passwords that start with a capital letter and ends with two numbers. With just some information, identity thieves can easily crack such passwords.

Be complex. Using a more complex password without patterns will increase our online security. If we come up with a system that’s easy for us to remember, it’s easy for thieves to crack.

Be inconsistent. Another common mistake is using the same password for multiple online accounts. This makes our lives easier and the job of thieves easier.

As for in-store purchases, it’s best to remember that credit cards and debit cards work differently. Credit cards provide much more security and insurance than debit cards. If you’re like us and believe that “cash is king”, including cash equivalents, such as debit cards, this poses a problem. The most frequent place for debit card identity theft is at gas pumps. Identity thieves implant readers in gas pump payment devices that capture debit card information.

Safeguarding your credit and debit card information:

  1. Real cash is king
  2. If you can’t use cash, use a credit cards to reduce your risk
  3. As soon as the media announces a breach, contact your credit and debit card companies
  4. Review your credit score and information regularly and address discrepancies immediately
  5. Update your passwords regularly

Anytime we use a convenient method to make purchases, we expose ourselves to risks. Following the steps outlined above won’t eliminate risks, but they’ll reduce risks. As we’ve learned over the past year, protecting our identity is an ongoing battle.

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