Security for Consumers: Protecting the Family

It is that time of year again, when we look to buying gifts online and offline for family, friends, and associates. When holiday cheer imbues us with brotherly love—well, at least most folks feel that way. There is, however, a group of folks waiting for mistakes to be made so they can capitalize on them. Mike Foley is a senior technical marketing manager at VMware, where he focuses on vSphere security. He and I recently discussed how you, as a consumer, can protect your family, money, and self from digital and other thieves.

During our video podcast, we also mentioned some advice from Todd Scalzott (@tscalzott). Here is that advice, in no particular order:

  • If you are in a coffee shop, do not do banking or purchase something online using its Wi-Fi. (A corollary is not to bank or log in to anything from a conference center, as 3G, 4G, and LTE use repeaters that connect to the conference center Wi-Fi.)
  • Do not share your big purchase (or even small-purchase items) using social media such as Twitter. This just tells thieves what you have.
  • Verify your privacy settings within Facebook and other social media tools often. (As a matter of fact, Facebook just updated privacy this past month.) Mike suggests you review them monthly.
  • Do not save your credit or debit card information in a store’s online system (such as within Amazon).
  • Use a different password for each account.

Now, we know the last two could be difficult, but consider the issues if the store is breached. Your credit or debit card would then be available to the hackers. Also, if you use one password for all of your digital life, hackers can trace your entire digital life and break into everything, bridging from Amazon to social media to iCloud, etc. This would mean a major loss of identity, not to mention the risk to your bank accounts and your family if your funds are stolen.

There is a solution. It is to use a tool like 1Password from AgileBits. Unlike some tools, 1Password creates a vault on your own systems in which to store your credentials and other important items. In addition, since it can hook into the browsers you use, it can start to collect all those accounts that make up your digital life. You can then audit those accounts to ensure that 1Password believes those passwords are strong enough, that you use different passwords for all services, etc. 1Password is secured using a password, preferably a passphrase that is a minimum of eighteen characters long. The cool thing about 1Password is that you can replicate the password share to Dropbox, iCloud, and other places so that it is available between all your devices.

Protecting your digital life will help protect your family and monies. How many of us bank online, have stock trading accounts, etc.? You could easily have well over 300 accounts just for your daily digital life. To protect yourself, collecting that digital life is crucial, as you now need to worry about your digital assets within your will. If your spouse, executor, etc. cannot find all your assets, those assets may be lost for all time. Your very long passphrase could be shared with your spouse, locked in a safe, left at the bank, or left with your attorney. You could even split the passphrase in half and store it in different locations. What you do is up to you.

The goal is to protect your family, funds, and self from identity and other theft. Here are a few more items to help:

  • Do not place those big or small boxes at the curb. Decompose them for disposal or recycling by placing them within the bins. Those small Apple Store boxes and bags could be just what a thief likes to see.
  • Do not check in via social media from an airport, on a plane, on a train, or from another state. This tells thieves you are not home. Another good trick is to disable location services within social media programs like Twitter so no one knows your location.
  • Do not talk about visits with your aunt, uncle, or other family members via social media. This could tell others that your family member’s home or yours is currently unoccupied.
  • Do work out with your neighbors a plan to pick up each other’s packages. Packages out at the door are just signposts saying “please steal me” or “I am not home, so please break in.”
  • This is a good time to make arrangements with your UPS and FedEx drivers and postal carriers. Get to know them, as they will help as well. If you have a lockbox for packages, it would be a good thing to let them know how to use it.

There are many more tips to come; this is the first installment as we look into security for the consumer. Have a safe and happy holiday season. If you have any new and relevant tips to share, let me know, and we will be sure to add them to a future podcast.

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