Why you’re not as secure as you think you are

There are 2.4 billion Internet users in the world today. Many of these users, in good faith, leave their personal online security up to their service providers. Sadly, time and time again, we see these companies fail to effectively protect sensitive customer data.

Why are there so many breaches?
Since 2013, there have been close to 1 billion records stolen as a result of data breaches. In the last year we have seen some of the most prominent organizations fall victim to cyberattacks.

The Heartbleed bug became another major issue as the bug created a vulnerability in the way browsers communicate to secure websites. The vulnerability was discovered in the OpenSSL cryptographic software library that is commonly used on servers utilized by banks, email providers, social media companies, etc.

Attackers were able to listen in to communications between the server and customers to steal passwords, personal data and more. While users were prompted to change all passwords and create new, stronger passwords, many of them were seemingly unaware of the seriousness of the security breach and the Heartbleed bug still continues to be a problem.

eBay fell victim to hackers in one of the biggest hacks to date. Users’ personal names, usernames, encrypted passwords, email addresses, phone numbers and date of birth were all stolen from its database. Even though passwords were encrypted, poorly designed passwords can be cracked and used by the hackers.

Target was also the victim of a hack when customer names, credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates and CVVs were involved in the information theft. Forty million credit card numbers were reported stolen from the company’s 1,797 U.S. stores. Security experts believe that hackers had access to the point-of-sale data, which means they either accessed the terminals where customers swiped credit cards, or that they collected the data as it moved from Target to credit card processors.

Are hackers getting smarter?
Hackers are not necessarily getting smarter but with the vast amounts of data that can be stolen, they are becoming more organized and sophisticated. In the last year, hackers have developed more advanced approaches to steal valuable information and leave users completely oblivious. Hackers have managed to effectively manipulate certain online platforms to mimic popular websites enticing consumers to enter their data. Hackers have also developed new bugs to infiltrate data centers and take precious user information.

Are users more vulnerable?
Today, online users are more vulnerable than ever before because there is a lack of awareness. Consumers take reasonable precautions to protect their information, but sometimes these measures are not good enough. With the growth of numerous online channels for shopping, banking and communications, consumers’ sensitive data is an easy target for hackers when a company is hacked. Increased use of social media and displaying important personal information also puts consumers at risk as it allows hackers to learn more about the targets’ lives.

With the growth of new mobile platforms, mobile data traffic is up 81 percent from 2008 to 2013. These platforms often save sensitive data and, through cloud synchronization, this data is available on multiple devices. If one device is lost or stolen, this can open the door for hackers to access personal accounts – or worse – steal the users’ identity.

Even with the newest security measures some individuals take, no one is ever as secure as they think. Here are some security and privacy tips to always keep in mind:

1. Be mindful of links, even from trusted sources: If you are sure you wish to visit a link a friend or business sends you, just type in the URL instead of clicking the link as it may lead to a fake site created to steal information or compromise your computer.

2. Own your online persona: Check your profiles often to be certain the correct information is listed and that security and privacy settings are set to the level you wish them to be. This is especially true for social media sites as they often change their privacy settings and could actually change yours by doing so.

3. Own your personal information: Be careful what information you post online and who may see it. It is easy to steal your identity when information such as name, age, birthdate, education, etc. is known. It’s also easy for hackers to just hit the “Forgot Password” button and then find the answers to your security questions by using search engines to find your children’s names, mother’s maiden name, city of birth, etc.

4. Use social media with caution: On social networks, be careful about adding apps, plugins, or other extras as they can be used to garner sensitive information about you and your friends. Always read carefully what these extras wish to have access to, e.g. a game or app does not necessarily need to have access to your calendars, friends, and so on for you to play a game.

5. Be mindful when “checking in:” Using apps that share your location gives away private information and becomes not only an online threat but a threat to your personal security as well. Make sure the social media network or geolocation app you are using has the privacy settings you wish. While it is nice to let your friends and family know what you are doing and where you are, it can also let criminals know you aren’t at home.

By taking the necessary precautions online, we can all become a little safer and keep our information protected.