21 Aug 2014
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Cyber Insecurity: What You Need to Know

A surge of cyber attacks affecting millions of Americans has many of us wondering what to do.

Cyber Insecurity: What You Need to Know

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is "not to get hacked," you’re probably not alone. A rash of cyber attacks has given many Americans the jitters about the safety of their personal information online.

Even The Onion ran a satirical article earlier this week about the problem. To ensure the safety of personal details online, The Onion jokingly suggests that Internet users “always log into your Gmail account in person by traveling to Mountain View, CA and letting the Google folks know it’s you.” For keeping phone data safe, they advise “never unlock your iPhone screen.”

After at least 70 million Target customers had their personal information stolen in a data breach at the end of 2013, in addition to other cyber attacks involving Snapchat, Skype,   Microsoft, and, most recently, Neiman Marcus, among others, The Onion’s advice doesn’t seem that outlandish.

As Alex Goldman writes for ‘On the Media's' website, “It has simply become a fact of life now that personal information is going to be compromised by hackers. Both private and public entities are routinely having information stolen because they are either unable or unwilling to properly inoculate against these kinds of attacks.”

Dang.

I’m not sure, however, that I have the willpower to keep my smartphone locked. (In fact, I'm sure I don't.) I’m a big fan of online shopping, and banking… and even bill paying.

For all of us caught in this shaky new world, here's a breakdown of what to consider in keeping up the good fight:

1) Prevent: In many cases, like that of the thousands of veterans who may have had personal details published earlier this week due to an unfortunate “defect” on a website run by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, there’s not much that the victims could have done to prevent a security breach. However, hackers come in all sizes, so be sure to create secure passwords as your first line of defense. 

2) Identify: A person can go crazy wondering if their personal information has been compromised online. Somewhat ironically, there’s a website that can help with that. Haveibeenpwned.com can check your email address and let you know if it’s been associated with any services that have been compromised. It’s a great place to start. Go here for a list of other signs suggesting you’ve been hacked.

3) Act: If you find yourself in the unenviable position of having been hacked, don’t waste any time in acting.  After being hacked himself, Wired writer Mat Honon explains what to do in the situation. Honon’s list of steps reads: “Ask Yourself Why”; “Reset Your Passwords”; “Update and Scan”; “Take Back Your Account”; “Check for Backdoors”; “Follow the Money”; “Perform a Security Audit on All Your Affected Accounts”; “De-Authorize All Those Apps”; “Lockdown Your Credit’; “Speak Out.” It may seem arduous, but it’s probably much easier than having your identity and/or the contents of your bank account stolen. Go here for Honon’s in-depth instructions.

Are you concerned about the safety your personal details online because of cyber attacks? Tell us in the comments or in a blog post.

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