Facebook is signaling an increased focus on securing users' data with the purchase of cyber-security firm PrivateCore, which works to protect Internet servers by making them less vulnerable to hackers. Facebook's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan says the acquisition is part of a concerted effort to keep the private information of the site's users out of the hands of identity thieves and spammers. As the social network extends its reach around the globe, Sullivan says it could become more vulnerable to security attacks.
"As a company we have this ambition to help connect millions and billions more people (while keeping the site from slowing down)," Sullivan recently told The L.A. Times. "We’re going into different environments and facing new security challenges. When it’s your data center, you control the keys to the door physically as well as technically. As we are building our network around the world, we face the challenges everyone does: a lot of situations involve putting your servers where you have lesser levels of trust."
Facebook's heightened concern over privacy issues comes after a string of high-profile digital security incidents, from the now infamous Target data breach to the more recent news that a small group of Russian hackers have acquired more than a billion sets of usernames and passwords. Many of the world's largest, most reputable companies have learned the hard way that their data stores are not as secure as they once thought.
Consumers have also experienced a somewhat rude awakening, as they have realized that anyone who has ever used a credit or debit card or shopped online is vulnerable to identity theft. While it's tempting to assume that no news is good news, remember that you (and your bank) may not even realize that your personal information has fallen into the hands of cyber-criminals. For example, P.F. Chang's recently announced that identity thieves were able to hack into the restaurant chain's financial processing system and then spent months collecting the credit card numbers of customers at dozens of locations across the country. Unfortunately, the restaurant says it cannot yet identify specific victims and therefore are unable to alert those whose information is now in the wrong hands.
While it is good news that companies like Target and sites like Facebook are taking steps to lock down their massive data stores, consumers should not wait to take steps to protect themselves. Don't depend on others to guard your privacy. While there is no 100 percent guarantee against identity theft, you and your family members can immediately take a couple of important steps to minimize your risk:
- Credit monitoring: Consider investing in a credit monitoring service, which can alert you to certain indicators of fraud that are attached to your name. The sooner you are aware of potential issues, the sooner you can take steps to defend your creditworthiness and protect yourself against incurring financial liability.
- Password protection: Security experts advise using a different password for every single digital account. Try to avoid using actual words, instead relying on randomly scrambled combinations of letters, numbers and symbols. The problem: If your passwords are simple enough for you to remember off the top of your head, then they are probably simple enough for a hacker to crack. That's why it's wise to use a password management program, which allows you to easily access all of your codes while still providing you with an extra layer of security protection. Remember that even rarely-used social media profiles can give cyber-criminals a wealth of your personal information, like your hometown and the name of your spouse and kids.