Who should protect your privacy?

By Laura Haight

How many times today did you expose your personal information to hackers or identity thieves?

Let's see, did you buy something online and use a credit card you'd saved on the site? Did you post photos on Facebook? Did you Tweet a joke about your boss? Or enter your six-character password (your dog's name?) on your home computer to watch a YouTube stream. Did you post a photo of your dog on Instagram? What about that hysterical .gif of the cat doing sit ups? That was a hoot. Of course, you had to click on the link in the email your friend sent to get it to play. But that was OK, right?

Do any of these behaviors sound like something you might have done today? Or any day for that matter? Of course they do. We all do them. 

The other thing we all do is expect that someone else out there is protecting our data and our privacy. Businesses take advantage of our cavalier attitudes by throwing 65-screen long terms of use at us when we install software or sign up for a service. How many of us do anything more demanding and laborious than scrolling to the end and hitting OK?

So far there are a lot of questions in this post. But here's an answer to the headline's question: You.

Of course, we have some expectation that the businesses we entrust with our personal information are guarding it to the best of their abilities. But regardless of what promises they might make or how expensive their mistakes can be for them, in the end, lapses on their end will cost them money. (You see Target is still in business, right?). While their losses could damage our credit, cost us our ownership of our own identities or even risk our safety and security. Once your identity is stolen, you are in for months - maybe years - of work and expense to try and recover it. It's not easy and the outcome is not guaranteed. 

There are some things you just can't help. Like giving the State of South Carolina your Social Security number on your tax return. But there are other situations we encounter every day where some diligence and caution can make a big difference.

Here are five:

  1. Your home network needs strong security. If you bought a Wi-Fi router, it came with a built in administrator password. If you are like most people you haven't changed that. Do it, right now. Not sure how to get into you router? Do what an identity thief might: go online and find the router model, and search for the manual online. The manual will have the administrator account and password plain as day. It is probably admin/admin. Or maybe admin/password. While you are changing the password, check the box that says "HIDE SSID". (Or it might be "Display SSID"). Your SSID is the name of your router. If you don't display it, hackers can't see it. And hackers can't hack what they don't know is there.
  2. Put a password on your computer and make it a strong one. That means, at least eight characters and no English language word, using symbols, numbers and capital letters. How will you remember it? Choose passphrases and create acronyms like the song you danced to at your wedding plus the location and year, which becomes Ihmflynj77 (I Hate Myself for Loving You, New Jersey, 1977). Have a different password for every site that requires one. Yes, obviously, they can't all be your wedding song unless you've had a very diversified personal life! Say yes to two-factor authentication everywhere it is offered. These two things taken together are your strongest defense against hackers and identity thieves. 
  3. There's nothing like sitting in a coffee shop, having a latte, leaning back in a comfortable chair and surfing the net on their free Wi-Fi, maybe pay those bills... Stop! Avoid using public Wi-Fi if you can, but whatever you do don't access sites where you have to enter your password, especially if you didn't take my advice in Step 2 to have different passwords for every site. 
  4. Think about what you share online. Is it smart to post on social media that you are heading for a two-week vacation to Hawaii? Probably not. How about storing your credit card info at your favorite shopping site? No way. Unless you are extremely diligent, you really have no idea who is seeing your posts and what they might do with the information. Identity thieves gather all the information about you to build a profile they can use: where you went to school, your best friends, where you vacation, when you got married, your pets names, etc. It doesn't mean don't share; but think of your personal information as if it were money. Value it and protect it. 
  5. Understand the security settings for social media sites and online services you may use. On data privacy day, which is Jan. 28 each year, take the time to review yours. Don't know how to find them? Stop. Think. Connect. has a list of links to a number of the most popular sites and where to find the security settings. 

There are a lot more. But these are basic steps to guard your privacy in a digital and connected world. It's your identity; own it, protect it. And one more thing: talk about it. #PrivacyAware.

Portfolio is proud to be a member of Stop. Think. Connect. and the National Cyber Security Alliance. Learn more about Data Privacy Day here.

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