During the current crisis that has brought most of the world to a stand still, many have found themselves with extra free time due to Stay Home Orders issued by many states.
If this applies to you, my hope is that you are in a work from home situation, or that you are currently placed on furlough at most and that your place of employment will have your position waiting for you once we get through this difficult time.
Whatever your situation, you may find yourself compelled to tackle some things you haven’t quite been able to find the time to do. Most people seem driven to tackle some home improvement projects, or to take up some physical activity (possibly out of guilt for abandoning their ill-fated New Year’s Resolution as most tend to do).
Nothing wrong with either of those “to-do’s”, but might I suggest that you use this time to do a personal tech security audit? Without question, protecting your personal information nowadays has always been important. But during the current epidemic we find ourselves in it may be more important now than ever. Unfortunately, the less desirable among us has seized this time as an opportunity, so there has been an uptick in scams and breaches. The good news is there are a few simple tools and techniques you can use to help keep your digital information secure.
Use A Password Manager
As any cyber security expert will tell you, the use of passwords is the weakest link in everything. In fact, in a perfect world, we would abandon the use of passwords altogether. The fact of the matter is, people are horrible at creating secure passwords. We all are. Yes, you are as well. Regardless of how clever you may think you are, the fact is your brain will ultimately settle into a recognizable pattern when attempting to think up new passwords. The real problems arise when once your pattern is cracked, infiltrators can then use that pattern to figure out the passwords for your other secured accounts. Although a more broad adoption of biometrics would be a much better solution, the fact is we are still stuck with passwords.
As such, it is important to use a Password Manager. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of LogMeIn’s Last Pass. I use it for my most important accounts – such as my bank account. In fact, I have no idea what my bank account password is. Instead, like I do with other accounts that I want to keep most secure, I let Last Pass generate a truly random and secure password (the most I can tell you about my bank password is it’s 36 characters long).
Last Pass gives you the option to control the length and complexity of the passwords you have it generate, and it stores them all in your personal vault. Install the app on your cell phone, and it will control all of those logins for you when needed. And speaking of biometrics, the app confirms it’s really you by using your device’s existing technology – whether that’s face recognition or a fingerprint scannger. With Last Pass, the only password you’ll need to remember is the password to your Last Pass account. It’s very important that you setup the secure password recovery options, because even the folks at Last Pass cannot see or reset this password for you.
Stop Using Your Credit Card
Now more than ever, more and more of us are ordering online. Thus it should come as no surprise that many have fallen victim to credit card theft – especially as some have become desperate for certain household necessities that they choose to place orders from less-than-reputable websites. Sure, there are still solutions like PayPal and Venmo, which are secure in their own right, but ultimately they are still a one payment source solution.
Thankfully there is an easy solution – during desperate times and during normal times. The service I like to use is Privacy.
Privacy lets you generate multiple, unique virtual credit cards – each with their own numbers, CSV codes, and expiration dates. Ordering from a site that you’re not so sure about? Use Privacy to generate a single use card that can only be used for that particular purchase. Any attempts to use the card afterwards is denied – and Privacy alerts you as such! In fact, Privacy alerts you of all purchases you make and keeps a monthly ledger of all your purchases. In fact, each card you setup can be locked to the vendor you chose. For example, I use Privacy for all of my recurring subscriptions such as Netflix and for all of my Amazon purchases and my Prime subscription. If I ever chose to skip a month for Netflix, I can simply pause the card assigned to it. Simply put, all digital transactions I conduct online are done with Privacy cards. From ordering take out to support restaurants, to paying monthly bills, I never use my bank issued card.
No One Is Watching You
This particular trick is still circulating, and angers me personally because I have family members who have fallen victim to it.
While surfing the web or simply composing an email, you receive a “security” pop up or notification indicating that system monitors have detected problems with you computer and they need you to act now. Clicking on the so-called warning basically opens the door to your computer. The first thing the “security professional” likes to do is show you a screen shot of your desktop, or access your webcam if you have one connected as a way to “prove” to you that they are truly who they say they are. Simply put, they are not. Microsoft, Apple, Google, or no other company is actively watching you or monitoring your system for problems, nor will they contact you in this manner. Nor will they ever call you. Ultimately what happens is the victim is instructed to pay a fee to “fix” the problems found. Unfortunately this is nothing short of a con and theft. If you ever see such a message, don’t click on it. It it won’t go away, simply go to your system’s Start menu and select “Shut Down”. Wait a few minutes then power back up. This will typically end this annoyance.
Don’t Click That Link
Lastly, please be sure to be EXTRA careful with email. As has become the norm during times of peril, email phishing scams are increasing almost daily. You may have already received emails from vendors and merchants you trust informing you as such – they will never send you emails requesting your personal information. Most importantly, they will not send an email with a link for you to click (which is the scam itself) to take you to a website to provide such information. Thankfully, many email spam filters tend to catch the bulk of these types of scams, but sometimes a few will slip through. A good rule of thumb to live by is simply to remember that if you didn’t initiate any changes to an account (such as a password reset request), treat all “we need you to update your information” requests as spam. Use the correct contact information from the service that supposedly sent it, and confirm if they actually sent the email. Most likely, they did not. Delete the email immediately. Better yet, depending on the email provider you use, block and report the sender as spam.
At all times, it is important to protect yourself in this digital age. Unfortunately during the worst of times criminals tend to ramp up their attacks and attempts to steal your hard earned money. Hopefully the tools I’ve provided here can help you keep your information secure.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.