Neal O’Farrell, Intersections’ Consumer Security Advisor offers up his ten tips to help you steer clear of trouble in light of all the recent data breaches and hacks.
I've talked a lot about data breaches in the last few weeks, so maybe it's time to move on and discuss something else. Or maybe not.
Because in just the last week we've seen a massive scaling up of these data breaches, and especially deliberate breaches by skilled hackers. Victims of these breaches range for the CIA and U.S. Senate, to more than half a dozen gaming web sites and companies, and while there's little you can do to prevent these breaches there are some things you can do to avoid being ensnared in one. Or at least minimize the damage if you are.
- Sign up for as little as possible. That's one of the best ways to avoid being victimized by someone else's mistake. The less information people have about you, and the fewer sites and businesses share it, the less they have to lose — about you.
- Opt out as much as possible. Check your inbox. If you're still getting a bunch of regular emails for things you signed up for in the past but don't really use anymore, then opt out or unsubscribe. It may not remove your information completely from that organization's database, but it could certainly help.
- Use a low-risk and low balance credit card to make payments, and especially reoccurring payments. That way, if your credit card is compromised the damage won't be too severe and you won't have much work to do to fix it. Above all, NEVER use a debit card for online purchases.
- If you're offered free credit monitoring, take it and use it. Credit and identity monitoring are a great way to get early warning about the possible misuse of your information after a breach, so use it to its fullest.
- If you're not offered credit monitoring, demand it. After all, you probably deserve it. I sometimes feel badly for organizations that suffer a data breach and end up having to spend millions of dollars as a result. But it's not your fault that they lost your data and put you at risk.
- If you still don't get free credit monitoring, either check your credit reports yourself, or better still, have Identity Guard® watch your reports on your behalf.
- Shields up. Every breach should be a reminder to you of the importance of vigilance. Use these moments (and it looks like there'll be plenty of them) to watch out for any unusual activities on your credit reports, accounts, email, and even snail mail.
- Change your passwords and use the moment to change your password habits. It makes sense that if your password is compromised in a data breach you would immediately change it, right? Lots of people do, but to just a slight variation of the password that was just compromised. Some people just like familiar passwords that they have a sentimental attachment to, but a breach is a great time to shake free of the personal connection and create a bulldog of a password that will defend you fearlessly.
- Don't use the same password for everything — because a number of recent data breaches found that many users use the same password for multiple websites. A single password for multiple sites just makes it easier for hackers to create more havoc in your life.
- Don't stop thinking about tomorrow. It's not just a great song, it's a great rule. There will always be more breaches, and chances are a few dozen (or even a few thousand) are taking place right as I pen this blog. Make sure you have at least something of a plan in place so that as soon as a data breach hits the headlines, you'll know your very next move.
Keep informed about the latest threats to your safety.