Valuable pieces of personal information and how to protect them

  2015-11-27

Valuable pieces of personal information and how to protect them

  17:37, by Cassie Phillips   , 1268 words
Categories: Day-to-Day Security Advice

Hackers and legitimate companies share one thing in common: both want your personal information. Though the exact method of collection and type of information will vary, the results can often be the same. Loss of privacy and the compromise of your personal safety can all ensue when your data falls into the wrong hands.

But what information are they after? From your hair color to your bank account number, there’s a lot of stuff to learn about you. By knowing exactly what data to protect, you can better prevent breaches of your personal security. In addition, having the right tools on hand to protect your information will make your life a lot simpler.

Here are some examples of valuable bits of personal information others are interested in having and how to protect said information.

Bank Account Information

Your bank may have already mentioned it to you when you opened your account, but (quite unintuitively) your account number and routing number is enough to get fraudsters closer to your money.Whereas siphoning out money may not be possible with this information alone without further authorization, it could be useful, e.g., to order checkbooks on your behalf. With the decrease in check use, this becomes less of an issue, but that doesn’t mean websites are exempt: plenty of online bills still offer the option to pay directly from your bank account. Because of that, you’ll need to check your bank regularly to make sure charges are going through as expected.

For the eco benefits as well as the convenience, switch to paperless banking; at least with a plan that allows for information viewing only. You’ll be able to check your statements daily rather than monthly, so problems will be spotted much earlier than if you’d waited until a check bounced or a payment was declined. Look at signing up for notifications as well; a simple email could be the difference between losing $300 and $3,000.

This leads us to a related topic…

Credit and Debit Cards

There are several ways your credit card information can be stolen, both physically and digitally. In person, criminals have always been able to steal your card directly, but now they’re becoming more sophisticated. Hackers can steal your credit information online by tricking you into giving your numbers out to fake websites. This can be done by phishing, by spoofing DNS responses, or using other active attacks.

What’s worse, legitimate websites are subject to attacks by hackers looking to steal stored payment information. Even large companies, such as Target, have been subject to data breaches that cost the company and their customers loads of money. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid this pitfall.

Start by oping out from the option of saving your payment information, unless it’s required by the vendor. Many online retailers will offer to save your card or banking info so you don’t need to enter it again for future purchases, but this can leave you vulnerable. Should you still wish to expedite things, consider using Blur to mask your credit cards. Blur (formerly DoNotTrackMe) allows you to create a virtual card through their company, meaning the only data companies receive is that temporary card. This works because Blur actually does the paying; they receive your payment and then transfer it to the vendor under your temporary card, creating a space between the vendor and your information. You do need to trust Blur, but trusting one provider is easiler than trusting doznes.

Location, Location, Location

With handy tools such as GPS and geo-caching, your location gets shared more than you could probably imagine. Many of these things can be turned off on your mobile device, but did you know that websites also request your location regularly? Make sure that if you browse the net with a GPS-enabled device, the browser does not divulge your location information to any asker. Some location information is made available to the site owner through your IP address, but this location is often of lower granularity. If you are concerned about this, then use a VPN (see below).

This end of “where you are” can be handled using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, which allows you to connect to a remote server before the rest of the internet, effectively masking your location with the VPN’s location. It also creates a secure, encrypted connection that keeps you safe on public WiFi. For more information, I recommend you read reviews on the best VPN services. Note, however, that using a VPN does not eliminate GPS location data that your browser sends if you did not configure it not to.

Keep in mind that it’s very easy to discover your travel plans via social media as well. Robbers are increasingly checking for people going on vacation or out of town simply by reading it on their Facebook or Twitter. Posting photos of Cancun for your friends and relatives might seem like a good idea, but consider waiting until you’re back from your trip.

Passwords

With digital technology replacing a number of once in-person activities, passwords are required for just about everything you access on your computer or mobile device. That means making and maintaining sometimes dozens of passwords, and it can get difficult to remember them all.

A big mistake many of us make is re-using the same passwords with little variation between sites. That means if your password is guessed or stolen even once, many accounts can become compromised all at once. This goes double for data breaches.

Consider using different passwords for different services, difficult as it may be. It requires some practice to create unique passwords each time, but the results are certainly worth it. Passwords should also be difficult to guess, not only through a manual process (that tries a few passwords and then gives up) but also through a robot that can try hundreds of passwords per second for many days. The most effective way for maintaining dozens of passwords that are both different and hard to guess (i.e., containing uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and special characters) is by storing them centrally and securely, such as using a good password manager.If you insist on memorizing your password, consider using a passphrase. Despite being longer, these can be much easier to remember.

Social Security Number

Whether it’s yours, a child’s, or someone you know, plenty of parties are interested in learning that string of nine digits. With the digital era in full swing, increasingly more companies are requesting Social Security numbers for identification purposes, be it over the phone or online.

Protecting this number follows the same guideline all measures of security will mirror: don’t share it if you don’t have to. When asked for your Social Security number, ensure the party inquiring is from a legitimate institution, and discover whether or not it is absolutely necessary for you to provide it.

For most companies (and government organizations) the last four digits will be sufficient. Be very careful if either party wants the rest; identity theft is considerably easier with someone’s Social Security number, and uses can range from opening credit cards and loans to starting a new life. For some quick tips on identity theft, give this article a quick read.

You Are Your Data and Your Data is You

It may seem a little impersonal to reduce yourself to a series of numbers and letters, but those exact same strings can be the difference between happiness and catastrophic ruin. Just be careful who you surrender that information to willingly or unwillingly, and be aware of scams and tricks aimed at stealing it.

 

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