Everybody’s making lists this week. Lose weight. Walk more. Shun that red wine. Folks at ID Watchdog don’t like to brag, but our Top 5 list can help you shrink your risk of identity theft. You probably haven’t studied these risk factors before, but what you don’t know could cause major headaches.
Set up an account at ssa.gov.
Retirement could be still a decade or two in the future, but this government account is one that still needs attention now. Set up your account before some hacker does it before you. Yes, that’s a thing.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) will require you to change your password every six months. Still, you need the account to check your earnings online. Do it yearly to spot possible earnings errors and correct them.
Last summer, SSA adopted two-factor authentication as part of a federal government move to boost data security. However, experts feel texting a code to your cell may be only marginally effective if a miscreant has already hijacked your SSA account.
SSA account security is essential if you’re 62 or older. You cannot afford to have someone hijack the account and file for benefits in your name.
Secure your WiFi router.
Did you ever reset the default password? We’re guessing the answer is probably NO, and you have lots of company. Checking and changing that code is the first step toward improved Internet security at home.
Check to see if you’re using one of the Netgear models making news in late 2016. They’re so insecure that the US government has issued a rare warning about the problem.
“Exploiting this vulnerability is trivial. Users who have the option of doing so should strongly consider discontinuing use of affected devices until a fix is made available,” the notice said. That government document contains the models involved.
Netgear is reportedly working on a fix but, the vulnerability has been known to them since August 2016, and it is still unsecured.
Netgear is not the only router manufacturer with security headaches. In early January 2017, the Federal Trade Commission charged D-Link with lax security practices. The FTC has also taken action against Asus.
Router security is not complicated; learn more here.
Survey your Internet-connected devices
Again, don’t get burned by leaving default passwords on the Internet of Things (IoT) items in the home. That new video doorbell? Change the password. Ditto for your new smart refrigerator and other items like a WiFi-controlled home thermostat.
We’ve all heard creepy stories about hacked baby monitors, but there are even worse risks lurking with IoT. In 2016, hackers used vulnerable IoT devices for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. DDoS attacks can swamp targeted networks with login requests. The result is slow speeds or networks knocked offline completely. Don’t be part of this growing problem; secure your devices.
Shodan.io is a website that searches for IoT devices. If a vulnerability is discovered, hackers can locate IoT items with that vulnerability, so search your own home before someone else does it remotely.
Move financial statements to online delivery
Don’t have bank and investment statements sent to your home. Not only can they be stolen from an insecure mailbox, they’re a risk lying around your home where anyone with a smartphone camera can capture the data. Houseguests, babysitters, relatives and home repair crews have been tied to this nasty practice.
The one risk of switching to online delivery is that you must still check the online statement. You can’t let it slide even when the statement’s not sitting on the dining room table. Delay and you could negate any federal laws protecting you from financial fraud. Improper charges must be reported within 60 days of the statement if you want the bank or credit card issuer to cover any fraudulent charges. As credit card hacks rise, financial institutions are understandably interested in ‘sharing’ this risk. Check statements monthly to preserve your rights.
Back up your data
2016 has seen a huge surge in ransomware, a form of malware that encrypts your data and demands a ransom to provide an unlock key. What would you do if your mobile device or computer were attacked? Imagine losing all your photos and emails. Then consider the loss of financial data and other personally identifiable information (PII). How much are you willing to pay to get it all back? Last year, acronis.com released details of a survey indicating many would pay $500 and hackers know this.
A 2016 study by cloud backup service BackBlaze revealed that only 8% of device users back up their files daily. A whopping 24% never back up, and another 25% do one single backup per year.
If you have a backup that’s not automatically connected to your computer, you could simply scoff at the hackers, wipe out their nasty work, then reclaim all your data.
Backups are also a blessing if your hard drive fails. Recovering data is pricey—it can run into hundreds of dollars—and not always successful. Check out our “B is for backup” guide to doing it properly.
Share your data security plan for the New Year. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll publish the best tips.