Keeping your identity safe in a hacker's world

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When it comes to today’s digital and mobile world, you can never be too safe. The world is being more digitized and connected, leaving organizations and consumers alike potentially exposed from looming advanced threats. In 2017 alone the world faced some of the biggest security breaches including Equifax, Yahoo and WannaCry just to name a few. These breaches have resulted in the majority of Americans’ personally identifying information being stolen, not to mention a significant portion of the rest of the world. Of note, a large percentage of these data breaches were attributed to compromised credentials. Over the last few years, data breaches have been steadily rising in both size and severity, and the security measures that firms are taking aren’t stemming the tide. A recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures found that the number of businesses falling victim to attacks rose by 21 percent in the U.S. last year, and doubled in the UK in the past two years. 

Hackers are always working on new and unexpected ways to steal our private data, and a simple PIN or password on a smartphone just isn’t enough to ensure that our information is secure. While newer authentication methods like biometrics are becoming more mainstream, passwords are still the primary way people access their accounts.  Despite the commonly known rule to vary account passwords, the majority of people use the same password for more than one account.  

These days, people are storing personal information online much more so than in the past. Consumers use mobile apps and websites to do almost everything – from banking to interacting with friends and family on social media. Even accessing sensitive data like their health records is done on a digital platform. Couple that with the explosion of websites and apps is the increasing concern consumers have about the security of their data. A 2017 study by Gigya found that more than two-thirds of adults are concerned about security and privacy, while 68 percent say they don’t trust companies to handle their personal data properly.     

To combat these concerns, here are four tips to better prepare against threats in an unsafe world: 

1. Education is Power 

Hackers aren’t just targeting consumer-focused businesses. Banks, healthcare organizations, and government agencies are also prime targets for data breaches. Furthermore, massive breaches like those at Equifax and Yahoo have already resulted in the private information of billions of people being leaked online. As a consumer, you are the strongest line of defense. It is vital to a take proactive, ongoing approach to educate yourself on the implications of hacks. Simple things like checking your bank statement regularly or shredding sensitive mail can reduce the likelihood of a breach caused by human error.   

2. Embrace Multi-Factor Authentication 

Passwords are comprised of an assortment of letters, numbers, and symbols. Unfortunately, no matter how complex or unique, passwords can no longer protect you. While most people use easy-to-crack passwords such as “123456,” many people use the same password for all their online accounts, which is the same thing as having one key for the house, car, safety-deposit box, and office. A consumer survey commissioned by Veridium found that 50 percent of respondents use the same password for up to 10 personal accounts. This creates a single point of failure if the wrong person were to crack it, and information can be exploited with devastating results. Passwords are also inconvenient to remember, considering that we now need them for so many actions in our daily lives.   

To achieve safety, best practices dictate moving beyond passwords and embracing multi-factor authentication. This includes using biometrics. Capturing your biometrics via a smartphone optimizes security while remaining convenient to use throughout the day.   

3. Change your Social Media Behavior 

In today’s age, social media is a common platform for consumers to overshare private information. Although people of all ages are guilty of oversharing, it is especially a concern with younger generations who are often unaware of the consequences. Every time a consumer shares their location, answers an online quiz, talks about their pet dog, or wishes someone a happy birthday, they are giving hackers clues to what their passwords or answers to their security questions might be.   

Security experts warn that this oversharing of personal information is contributing to the widespread reports of data breaches and hacked social media accounts. Even if you do not fall victim yourself, oversharing may come back to haunt you tomorrow. Next time you are online, be mindful of what you are sharing and posting on your social media channels. 

4. Safeguard your Data 

Even though technology and hackers are becoming more advanced, many people still do not take appropriate steps to safeguard their data – despite most saying they are concerned about protecting their information. Forty-seven percent of online shoppers said they stored some or all of their credit-card information on retailer websites for quick and easy access to their accounts, and yet 40 percent of online shoppers stated that they have not changed their password in the past year.

Whether through targeted phishing attacks or database hacks that leak millions of usernames and passwords out onto the web, there's no reason to suspect that this hacking danger will end anytime soon. Come to terms that you will, at some point, get hacked. Your personal identity will be stolen. It’s not an “if,” but a “when.”  

Luckily, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself. Many people think that they can’t do anything to protect their digital lives, but in many ways, smartphones, digital mentalities, and the availability of multi-factor authentication tools demonstrate the power of biometrics for protecting consumers.   

There is an ongoing debate on whether people are trading privacy and security in exchange for convenience and free services, especially now that we, as consumers, store so much of our personal information on smartphones and on cloud services. As a result, corporations and consumers have been searching for a safe and easy way to protect personal information. Many are taking steps toward replacing passwords, PINs, tokens, and even usernames with biometrics. 

In an increasingly digital world, with more private data being stored on mobile devices and in the cloud, the need for ironclad security is paramount. Using your biometrics – your unique traits or behavioral characteristics – to prove identity safeguards your most valuable assets in a way that’s both convenient and secure.

James Stickland, CEO of Veridium 

Image Credit: Welcomia / Shutterstock