It’s National Cyber Security Month: Are You Protected?
Vicki Hinze © 2014
Individuals have more latitude about what they disclose online and make available to the public than do writers and others whose objective in putting information online is business-related. There’s a myth that this alone makes one safer from identity theft, stalking and other intrusions, but it does not and they are not.
This month, SingleHop.com contacted me with information on cyber security awareness, myths and tips, and because this issue impacts all of us who use devices like the Internet on our computers, laptops, tablets and phones, we should heed the awareness month opportunity and double our resolve to protect ourselves.
One of the biggest myths is that hackers only go after huge companies. They don’t. They go after everyone. The more exposed you are online—meaning, the more active you are—the greater your odds for hacking attempts, but even if you’re marginally active, one of a hacker’s automated probing systems can locate the obscure you and hack your information. So the first tip is not to settle into a false sense of security by your minute presence. Any presence is vulnerable.
For those of us who have greater activity—websites, social network sites, retail sites, multiple blogs—we’re more vulnerable and must be more diligent. The day I received the myths and facts file from SingleHop, it was before 11:00 AM. I had already received multiple alerts that hacking attempts had been made on several of my sites. In the past few weeks, I’ve received probably fifty such alerts. Different ISP (Internet Server Provider) numbers attempted the hacks, and they originated through a multitude of anonymous routers (attempting to hide their identities) and they were from a variety of countries. Different countries have different laws and that too makes it important to nix attempts before they happen. Afterward is a nightmare of a challenge to try to resolve.
One thing all these alerts had in common was the hacker attempted to log into the accounts using “Admin” as the user ID. That’s a big tip. Don’t use “Admin” or “admin” as your user ID. And use complex passwords that include numbers and symbols and text. The more complex, the better. It’s stunning how many people think “12345abc” is sufficient. It’s not. Never use birthdays, kid’s names, or the common. Use a random combination of numerals, symbols, and text. No, you won’t be able to remember them; you’ll need a cheat sheet not stored on your computer. But hackers won’t be able to guess them, either.
We use our devices for nearly everything, which means we have a lot of private and sensitive information on them. We use firewalls and anti-virus protection and think we’re covered. Those things do help, but we must also remember that things like our themes on websites, plug-ins used there, servers themselves must be kept up to date. We should use the latest, newest versions. If they aren’t and we don’t, then those are vulnerabilities in keeping our private/sensitive information private.
We should also make sure our merchants–where we shop–use dedicated servers with anti-hacking security measures. (You can get more info on dedicated servers here.) If they don’t, regardless of all we do, they make us more vulnerable. Any weaknesses–ours or theirs–can allow access and access can be to anything there–all data stored–not just to a bit of what is there. It only takes one crack in your protective barrier (or those with whom you deal) to let hackers in. Once in, for them, it’s party time. For us, it’s nightmare time.
Some think that they don’t have anything sensitive on their computers. But passwords, account numbers, and other information is gold to hackers. What others can do in your name is astounding.
A few years ago, I had an incident in which the local police and ultimately the FBI were brought in. I had an online stalker who gleefully attached snippets of my writing to porn. I write inspirational, Christian fiction and clean read books. I mentor other writers, teens to seniors. Having my work stolen and used this way created a lot challenges for me, and took a lot of my time trying to explain myself. So not all challenges are monetary, though those challenges did impact me monetarily. There’s a trust bond between reader and author, and to some, I broke it. Word that I didn’t break it but had an issue with someone else doing things in my name didn’t get spread nearly so quickly or so far as word of what was done. It reminded me of the false news article being on the front page above the fold, and the retraction being buried below the fold on page 40.
So it’s far better to do what you can to protect yourself and your interests before something happens rather than to have to try to clean up the mess afterward. Restoring money is a challenge, restoring trust and reputation are far more difficult and a far more laborious process.
SingleHop included a reminder that is significant to us all, but particularly to those of us who must deal with intellectual property theft issues, and that regards deleted files. We delete files of our books, early drafts of works, and a lot of business documents, and we don’t give them another thought. But we should. Our trash cans should be encrypted and protected. Our deleted files—like much of the information we delete online—remains, sometimes long after we delete it on those sites’ servers. And hacker’s have tools to get to it. So deleting files and the trash properly are imperative to us.
The day before I received the notes from SingleHop, I received an email warning that just in the State of Florida, 50,000 minors per year are discovering that their identity has been stolen. But they don’t discover it until they go to get a driver’s license or something like that. They are also discovering that credit cards have been gotten in their names, using their social security numbers, and personal information. I don’t know if other states have a process to freeze your minor’s credit, but Florida does. For something like $10 per year, a parent can do that. If your child’s identity has already been stolen, they’ll waive the fee. FMI, contact: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Consumer-Resources/Consumer-Protection/Protect-Your-Child-s-Identity.
So in this Cyber Security Awareness Month, let’s engage on the above and on the obvious:
1. Be slow to share private information.
2. Create strong passwords that aren’t obvious.
3. Use common sense measures to protect family members as well as ourselves online.
4. Determine and maintain updates and use the latest versions (which often include security updates) on software, hardware, themes, and servers. Think due diligence and preventive maintenance.
Understand that an email can appear to be from anyone. No reputable business or entity will ask for user name, password, or sensitive information via email. If one does, report it. It’s a phishing scam.
Understand that telephone calls from xyz aren’t necessarily from xyz just because Caller ID says they are. Yesterday, I received a call from someone purporting to be my medical insurer. The individual wanted my date of birth and other sensitive information. I refused to give it. Was the call legitimate? I have no idea. And that’s why I didn’t share it. Get your private information, and then they’ll use it for their benefit or sell it to someone else to use.
So the last tip is this: When in doubt, opt out. Don’t share.
Actually, this is the last tip. We’re individuals, business people, writers. We’re not cyber security experts. But our lives are impacted and that makes it personal. The havoc that can be created is staggering, so if in doubt about your protection, hire a reputable professional. One who can review, add what you need, strengthen what you’ve got.
Some now on a wider basis are using biometric and voice-recognition security measures once reserved for huge companies. This, I expect, will become the norm before too much longer. Identity theft and cyber theft has become a huge, expensive challenge and it continues to grow, so technology by bright minds will continue to evolve and expand with new measures and methods to protect against these current and new challenges.
My gratitude to SingleHop for its myths and facts on Cyber Security and for permission to use them in the creation of this article. I’m grateful for your generosity of spirit in helping us to better help ourselves.
© 2014, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is Down and Dead in Dixie. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact. www.vickihinze.com.