It depends if you like to gamble or not.
It seems that not a week goes by when we are not reading about some kind of cyber security breach at a big-name retailer or corporate giant. Sometimes they can be attacks by a rogue government, or even by a teenager in the Ukraine.
But what about me? Am I safe? Surely these problems won’t ever affect me, will they?
Well, that depends on a lot of things. Cyber security requires that we adhere to same basic rules:
- limit physical access to our device(s)
- have strong passwords in place to access our information
- keep devices and operating system software up to date
- use a good security program
- have a plan if things go bad
Allow me to elaborate a little on each of the rules.
Rule 1 – Limiting physical access. This may seem really basic, but its importance cannot be stressed too much. Lock your doors, keep your phone in your purse or pocket and don’t let other people use your stuff.
Rule 2 – Strong passwords are always a must. Here’s some things to help you make them. Use special characters to replace letters; use a $ instead of an S, how about a 3 instead of an E, or maybe a ! instead of a 1. Those can definitely help make the password stronger. A phrase “sandwiched” between some numbers, like 19BornToRun75! As a Springsteen fan you would easily remember that this album came out in 1975 and adding the ! at the end makes it stronger.
Rule 3 – If the hardware or software manufacturer issues you an update, you need to install it. We all need to be sure we have a proper backup before installing the update (also referred to as a patch) in case something goes wrong. Microsoft and Adobe routinely release updates, but not so for Apple. We sigh when we see the pop-up about even more Microsoft updates, but they are all still important. And when Apple releases a security update, it’s usually pretty serious so do it right away.
Rule 4 – Have a good security program installed on your computer. And yes Virginia, Macs so get infected. And don’t forget about backup. The best plan is 3-pronged; the original data on your computer, a local backup device like a USB external drive or even a flash drive, and also a cloud copy using a service like Carbonite or CrashPlan.
Rule 5 – What if my device is compromised, now what? First, we need to assess what it really means. Most of our devices are not that important to be attacked. Nor is the data on them…at least not to anyone but ourselves. The best plan is prevention. That and have a someone to call for help, whether that’s your neighborhood computer folks, banker, attorney or kid brother. Don’t panic, just ask for help.
For business, cyber security has an enormous and scary downside if the data gets compromised. They even sell insurance now in case your data gets stolen. But for consumers, it’s really about identity theft. Long gone are the days when our contact list was stolen and emails about Viagra, Low-Interest Mortgages and Weight-Loss were sent out. Embarrassing to be sure, but pretty harmless in the end.
Now the bad guys are more surgical. They are hijacking your email and looking for conversations between you and your brokerage house; searching for terms like “wire transfer” and other things that will allow them to see a pattern and try to have money re-routed to their account instead of yours. We witnessed it enough because the protocols of the bank or broker are not followed precisely, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place, right?
And identity theft…this can be the worst. Accounts opened in your name or tax returns filed on your behalf are obvious signs your identity has been stolen. You have resources to help you at the Federal Trade Commission – www.identitytheft.gov. Go there to report an event if it ever happens to you.
Keep your devices near you. Have strong passwords. Install software updates. Use a security program. Know what to do if something does go wrong.