There are moments when I feel helpless and hopeless as I watch privacy diminishing rapidly before my own eyes. Not a day goes by without one type of privacy breach or another and frequent news reports and articles make it feel like cyber attacks are rapidly increasing in frequency and magnitude. The recent Target breach is reported to have affected over 40 million consumers and I’m one of them. However, I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet and neither should you! There are many ways we can all continue to protect ourselves and our families, friends and businesses.
Below please find a list of situations that may trigger that helpless feeling. But please do not despair. Keep reading below each scenario for a suggestion of how to handle it or how to reduce its impact.
Privacy aspects out of our control:
1. Sensitive information such as our home addresses, the taxes we pay or the amount of money we pay for our homes is publicly available!
- We can make it harder to find this information by removing the information from search engines. See,
But don’t forget, the information is still publicly available elsewhere for those that seek it out in other ways.
2. The majority of breach victims are powerless when it comes to preventing breaches within organizations and businesses – as seen in the recent breaches suffered by Target and Zappos.
- Consumers can stay on top of online banking, credit card statements and credit reports in order to quickly recognize when they have become victims and to promptly take steps to deal with it. See,
- Employers can offer training to avoid mistakes leading to vulnerabilities and organizations can invest in security measures to help prevent breaches.
- Individuals can follow basic safety steps at home too. See,
3. We are required to provide private information to insurance companies, health care providers and financial institutions in exchange for services they offer. We hope they protect our data but we are unable to prevent data breaches and hacking attempts into their data systems.
- Do not assume we must always provide private information requested. We can provide essential information only. For example, I rarely provide my social security number when asked. The person asking usually finds an alternative piece of information that will suffice. When I took a training course offered by a division of Homeland Security at a Sheriff’s station, I did not include my social security number in the space allocated for it on my exit exam. I suffered no consequence.
4. We are at a vendor’s mercy when it comes to keeping our financial information encrypted and secure when we make purchases online, in restaurants and in stores.
- We can check our statements and credit card receipts for fraudulent charges.
- We can complain if we notice our card information is printed on a receipt or if we happen to observe that our information is not being securely maintained.
5. Frequent news headlines inform us that both U.S. and other governments spy on citizens and visitors by monitoring phone calls, emails, social network profiles and browsing habits. We cannot control the steps that NSA and other agencies take to meet their various agendas.
- We can control what we say and do when we use our devices. See,
6. We are bound to the privacy policies of services we sign up for and have no direct or immediate power to change these policies.
- Many apps compromise privacy in a big way. Dig deeper into the privacy settings and if you can’t do this, avoid using apps that invade your privacy and the privacy of your contacts. See,
7. There are companies that are not honest about their intentions and that use our data for undisclosed purposes. We are likely to not know about this until it’s too late.
- We can pick and choose whom we do business with. We can stop supporting businesses we do not trust and let others know to do the same.
8. Many entities have access to our credit reports and this can be subject to abuse.
- We can request (free) copies of our own reports to know what is going on with them in case of fraudulent activity. See,
9. Some organizations piece together publicly available information from various sources to create a more complete picture of an individual.
- We can be aware of what we post online and consider in advance if that information can come back to harm us when it is pieced together with the publicly available information that we do not post ourselves.
It is naive to assume we can lead completely private lives in this day and age but thankfully there are steps we can take to mitigate the negative consequences. Then there are other aspects of privacy that are completely under our control. That is, once we take proactive steps to make it that way. Stay tuned for that information.
Until next time,… Stay Cyber Safe!