Photo (cc) by Don Hankins
In an age when military secrets can be downloaded like Lady Gaga singles and your credit card info can get swiped while you play video games, it’s no wonder people are worried about protecting their personal information. Identity theft has been the No. 1 consumer complaint received by the FTC for more than a decade.
One in 5 Americans would ditch a company if it lost their data, according to the international “Data Breach Battle” study by Sailpoint, an IT company focused on protecting identities – and 10 percent would tell their friends and family to abandon that business.
But even though people are worried about it happening to them, nearly the same number of Americans said they would steal data from their employer, given the chance. Even more outrageous, almost a quarter of British citizens surveyed said they would sell that info for profit! (Only 5 percent of Americans would – or at least admit it.)
These stats underscore the point that you shouldn’t rely solely on businesses to protect your info. Consumers have to do everything they can too. Here are a few ways to protect yourself…
- Common sense. I’ve had co-workers who share computers and constantly leave their Facebook accounts logged in – then they prank each other by posting phony messages and changing relationship statuses. While this is relatively benign, they complain that they’ve been “hacked” by each other. But it’s not hacking if you’re too dumb to log out. Closing the browser window is rarely enough to protect your info. There’s a “log out” button for a reason, so use it.
- Use encrypted sites and Wi-Fi. At the start of a website address, you usually see “http” followed by a colon and two forward slashes. Ideally, you want to see “https,” which is a secure version of HyperText Transfer Protocol. Financial sites often use this, and social networks like Facebook and Twitter offer it, but not by default – you must enable it through settings. (The links explain how.) This is particularly important when you’re browsing on a public Wi-Fi network, like at a coffee shop, because they’re more susceptible to hacker snooping. If your home network is open, learn how to secure a wireless network. OnGuardOnline.gov has more info on the dangers of public Wi-Fi.
- Make complex passwords. Don’t use just one password for everything. If someone guesses it, or if you leave it lying around, they can access all your accounts. This also means you shouldn’t take advantage of using your Google or Facebook login instead of registering on various sites. It’s inconvenient, but safer. The best passwords are long, not real words, and contain special characters or nonconsecutive numbers.
- Update your software regularly. Hackers are always finding new security vulnerabilities and loopholes in popular programs, and developers are always patching them up. Make sure you check for software updates on a weekly basis, a process that can usually be automated through settings. Secunia has a tool that tells PC users when software gets outdated.