Once upon a time, it was the stuff of espionage and thriller films – a la Tron, Enemy of the State and The Bourne Ultimatum. These days, hacking and data theft are in the mainstream and in our faces, what seems like every other day.
Last year’s news agenda was heavy on stories of internet fraud, industrial scale data breaches and scandals featuring social media companies allowing third parties to harvest and analyse the personal data of millions of unsuspecting members.
At the same time, individuals are becoming increasingly aware their personal information is valuable and failure to protect it can leave them vulnerable in a range of ways.
What’s it worth?
We do it often and often we do it mindlessly. Entering personal information – names, email addresses, dates of birth, banking details – into online sites and assume the system is par for the course in the digital era. Many of us conduct a plethora of transactions online – everything from booking holidays to buying pet food – all of which require us to entrust our data to third party systems we hope are legitimate and secure.
So, what’s personal data actually worth to hackers and cyber-criminals who seek to use it for illegal purposes or illicit gain? The answer is, it depends.
One recent study put the value of a stolen driver’s licence at $20, a credit card at $8 to $22 and a complete medical record at a whopping $1000. All this information and more is up for sale in bulk, via the so-called Dark Web – the online marketplace where all things illegal can be bought and sold, using cryptocurrency
Giving it away for free
More commonly, we’re asked to give our personal data away for free. Buried in the clauses you’ll be asked to agree to before you download an app or report or access a discount coupon will be the declaration that clicking on ‘I Agree’ will confirm your permission for the company in question to use your data for a variety of purposes.
Just saying ‘no’ is an option but one that may restrict your access to resources and services many of us have become accustomed to accessing online. In fact, keeping personal data entirely private is almost impossible, particularly for individuals wanting to use the internet to its full potential.
Alert but not alarmed: tips for staying safe in a digitally driven world
It’s impossible to ensure every organisation you deal with will safeguard your personal information against loss or theft but there is a range of precautions individuals and small businesses can take to reduce the odds of their data falling into the wrong hands.
Staying up to date
Do you make a habit of ignoring those emails from software suppliers advising you to install their latest update? If you’re serious about protecting your systems and data you won’t. A significant proportion of successful hacking attempts occur when individuals and small businesses fail to patch their systems, despite having the remedy to hand.
Stronger and longer passwords
Remembering multiple passwords is one of the great challenges of the digital era. It can be tempting to pick something short and obvious, stick with it for years and use the same letter number combination across multiple sites.
Unfortunately, doing any or all of these things makes it all too easy for hackers to crack your password and, if you only have the one, log into every account you possess.
As highlighted during the recent attack on federal politicians, choosing strong and long passwords, or pass phrases, and changing them regularly can be your best hope of defeating their efforts to do so. Two factor authentication – the verification of your identity via more than one method – can also be your friend. More organisations are installing software that enables them to verify users and customers in this way and it makes sense to enable it whenever it’s offered to you.
It used to be simple enough to spot a phishing email. If the poorly written English wasn’t a red flag, the crudely rendered graphics would likely give it away. But scammers have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years and many of their gambits have the air of authenticity that was formerly absent. It’s easy enough to get sucked in – which is why it makes sense to spend a little time reading up about the latest scams doing the rounds.
A back-up plan
Like software patching, backing up your data regularly is one of those computing chores that are all too easy to leave for another day You’ll be glad you didn’t if you’re unlucky enough to fall victim to a ransomware attack. Having a recent back-up means you won’t be at the mercy of the hackers who’ve hijacked your data and will be able to restore your systems with ease.
About the author
Michael Warnock, Australia country manager for Aura Information Security