You may be thinking, “If they can break into Sony’s corporate computers, can they do it to me?”
Not that North Korea – the prime suspect in Sony’s hugely embarrassing and very costly computer breach – has much interest in your Gmail account or Facebook natterings. But for profit or fun, somebody may be poking around your private info, looking for vulnerabilities.
According to the non-profit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, more than 931 million records have been breached since 2005, 66 million so far this year.
Speaking on CCTV News recently, cyber security expert Gary Miliefsky said this: “We’re trading convenience for privacy and security. Every mobile device, every smartphone, every tablet is a doorway either into your bank account, credit card, or your identity. And as a result, the hackers have so many new ways in it’s a feeding frenzy for cyber criminals this year.”
Mr. Miliefsky is CEO of SnoopWall, the inventor of spyware-blocking technology, and an advisor to the US Department of Homeland Security. Here are his tips to safeguard your information:
• Assume you’ve already been compromised. Whether it's your baby monitor, your SmartTV, the Webcam on your laptop or apps you installed on your smartphone or tablet, your antivirus is not enough protection. It's time to take those devices’ and apps’ privacy policies, and the permissions you grant them, much more seriously.
• Change your passwords – all of them. Now. And do it as frequently as you can tolerate. Also, if you don't want to change it often, then use any unique characters you can think of, such as a dollar sign ($) or exclamation mark (!), or replace an "oh" with a "zero" (0). This goes a long way in preventing attacks against your password.
• Turn off wireless and geolocation services. Protect your smartphones and tablets by turning off WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS, except when you need them. That way, if you are at a local coffee shop or in a shopping mall, no one can spy on you using nearby (proximity) hacking attacks and they can’t track where you were and where you are going on your GPS.
• Assume most of your apps are creepware. Do you really need them? Delete all of the apps you aren't using too often. Replace apps that ask for too many permissions and take advantage of too many of your privacy settings – like GPS, phone and sms logs, personal identity information – with similar apps that don't.
• Opt out of sharing your information. Opt out of every advertising network that you can. Visit the National Do Not Call Registry and register your smartphone and home phone numbers at www.donotcall.gov. If you use a Google email account and have an Android phone, even with your GPS off, it's tracking your every move. (Log in to maps.google.com/locationhistory/b/0 and see for yourself.) Go into your smartphone or tablet settings and turn this feature off. In your Android phone, go to Settings, then Location, select Google Location Reporting and set Location History to off. The same holds true for the Apple iPhone, iPad and iTunes. You need to find the location and privacy settings and turn off access under Settings, then Privacy then Location.
• Your browser is a double agent – keep it clean. It is spying on you for advertisers unless you block and remove cookies and delete the cache frequently. In your web browser settings, delete your history, all cookies and passwords and the cache. You should do this frequently so you don't leave personal information sitting around on your computer, smartphone or tablet.
• Only shop on the websites of companies you already trust. If you don't know where the merchant is located, don't shop online there. If they don't have a corporate address or are located in another country, it is risky for you and you may never see the goods you think you purchased. Also, if their shopping cart experience is not an HTTPS browser session, then everything you type in, your name, address and credit card information, is going over the internet unencrypted – in plain view.
• Turn off geotagging – your photos are full of information. Twitter and Instagram as well as your iPhone will give away your location. Most people don't realize Twitter and Instagram both use geotagging for everything you send out. Geotagging stores the latitude and longitude of your tweet or image. Pictures you take on an iPhone usually store geotagging information, as well. The less information you give out about where you are located, the safer you are.
• Don’t use cash or debit cards – use credit cards, wisely. Credit cards allow you to travel with less cash, and if you’re purchasing online, it's safer to give your credit card than your debit card information. The same holds true when you visit your local retail outlet. The reason? If you experience identity theft, credit card laws allow you to keep all of your credit, with no responsibility during an investigation. With a debit card, your bank can tie up your money in the amount equivalent to the fraudulent transactions for up to 30 days.