You have been the victim of a cyber-attack. Think that's a bold statement? It's actually not.
In recent years, digital exploits of financial institutions, retail giants, social media companies, and health care institutions have exposed sensitive financial or personal information of hundreds of millions of consumers. The consequences have included career limiting embarrassment, political manipulation, national security, and real monetary loss.
Once upon a time, safeguarding your hard-earned cash and reputation simply meant acting wisely in regards to both. Today, we're required to be more proactive. With our digital data flung so widely across the web and entrusted to so many, it's no longer reasonable to expect that our information is carefully protected by those who possess it. We must assume that it will, at some point, be exposed.
We could talk about some of the more advanced measures available such as third-party VPN services or personal firewalls, but not everyone has the technological background to take such steps. For the rest of us, there are less daunting steps we can take to defend against malicious attacks against our national and personal security.
RULE 1: BE CYNICAL
This is the most important rule. ALWAYS question the motives of the source. Facebook has admitted that during the recent presidential election foreign interests placed ads both for and against Republicans and Democrats designed to incite anger in both political base camps. It was also discovered that similar ads were purchased with the intent of provoking both sides of volatile racial and ethnic issues. Their goal? To create division amongst the people of our country in an attempt to destabilize it and reduce our global standing. Their tactics included targeting people who visit pro-left or pro-right web sites and playing upon their fears, prejudices, and/or political leanings.
RULE 2: SEE RULE 1
Anyone actually purchasing advertising is trying to sell you something; be it product, opinion, or division and is inherently biased. Don't expect the full truth.
RULE 3: NEVER PROVIDE TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Social media companies like Facebook and others will often ask you to provide your place of employment, tag your relatives, and check in at public places. Given what some people post to Facebook and other sites, an identity thief could easily pose as that person when calling the bank or health care provider. There are even instances where thieves have posed as foreign officials demanding bail money for the release of a relative who shared too much of their vacation plans on social media.
RULE 4: USE A PASSWORD MANAGER
With so many sites requiring passwords for access, it is tempting to use something easy to remember and use it often. But, when one service is hacked, the first thing a cyber-criminal does is test newly stolen logins at numerous banking intuitions. A password manager such as Dashlane or LastPass do cost around $40 a year, but they can automatically generate highly random passwords and even log you in to your saved sites automatically. Furthermore, some can alert you to newly discovered breaches related to those sites and even offer to automatically change the related password. All you need to remember is one master password that is stored locally on your computer and never transmitted over the internet.
RULE 5: SUBSCRIBE TO A CREDIT MONITORING SERVICE
Companies like MyFICO.com can alert you to new accounts being opened in your name as well as changes to your credit rating and card balances. They'll even notify you when someone checks your credit, a precursor to an account being opened. Like the password manager, this is not a free service. Being unaware could be more expensive.
RULE 6: MOM IS WATCHING
Always treat anything you do on the internet as if you were plastering it on a billboard outside your place of work, church, or mom's house. There is a saying that digital never dies. Internet privacy policies and laws are constantly changing. Always assume what you do or say on the internet is public information. If it isn't public now, it may well be in the future.
RULE 7: REMEMBER THE BASICS
Lest we forget, there are numerous things we can do that have hopefully been drilled into us by now.
All of this can seem intimidating, but we are also the beneficiaries of some amazing technological advancements arising from the world wide web. The landscape has changed, but a little common sense goes a long way. There are always little things we can do to make big improvements in our exposure to online fraud and misinformation.