“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Those words by Malcom X ring true in the cybersecurity sphere. The technology of the future promises a world of simplicity and interconnectivity, where doctors can access a patient’s complete medical history, where cars drive themselves, where our devices learn our preferences and habits, and where systems know what we want purchase even before we do.
However, these technological conveniences come with a price—you. They need to capture everything about you that can be represented by data—your purchases, your driving habits, the temperature in your home, what time you wake and sleep, when you get a cold, how often you visit a particular restaurant and what you order. In many cases, this data is already beginning to be captured, analyzed, shared, and it’s influencing your perceptions and decisions.
As first glance, the thought of this individualized data in the hands of businesses, governments, or other organizations is troubling if not outright terrifying. Recent high-profile data breaches, such as Equifax, have highlighted the negative impact this type of mass data collection can have. However, the future isn’t as scary for individuals who establish healthy habits to protect their digital identity. The following are a few key practices you should consider:
Secure your online accounts based upon risk.
On an almost daily basis, we are asked to setup an online account or profile to access content or services. Many of us make the mistake of utilizing the same password for many of these accounts. While we can’t create and remember a unique password for each of our accounts, it’s important to differentiate accounts that pose a higher risk to our security. For example, consider a person who creates an account with an online video streaming service that requires them to submit an email address.
If that user forgets their password to the video streaming service, the video streaming service will simply send an email to the address on file that will enable the user to reset their password. In this situation, the user’s email account and the video streaming account do not pose the same level of risk to this user. If the video streaming service were to be hacked, what information would be compromised? Their streaming habits and some of their publically-available personal information.
If, on the other hand, their email account is hacked, then they can use that account to not only access their email, but also reset passwords for all the other accounts. Accounts that pose a more significant risk if breached should be given greater scrutiny and security. So, while you may use similar passwords for general online accounts, those accounts that control the keys to your personal information should be different and closely guarded. In addition, where possible, multi-factor authentication should be implemented.
Periodically monitor your credit report.
Your personal financial credit is one of the most sensitive collections of information that can be targeted for identity theft. To protect your financial credit, you should perform regular reviews of your credit history to identify any accounts that have been opened without your consent. The three largest credit monitoring services (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union) are each required by law to provide individuals with a free credit report on an annual basis. You should establish a habit of reviewing your credit three times a year.
Regularly review your financial transactions.
Review the activity on your credit card and bank accounts at least weekly. If your purchase card data were stolen and fraudulent transactions occurred, the sooner you can work with the bank or credit card company to reverse the charges.
When we establish personal habits to protect our digital identity, we’re prepared for future cyber challenges.