How do you keep those nasty cyber-bandits out of your emails and online banking? Grace Maa throws up a firewall to help
RECENTLY, I RECEIVED an email from an American schoolmate I hadn’t heard from in years. His email told a shocking story of having been beaten and robbed in London, asking me to send him $900 to help him get back to the US. It was the request for US dollars that raised my suspicions and within minutes I managed to speak with him – unharmed and back home in Washington D.C.
Someone had hijacked his personal email and changed the password to block him from recovering access. Though my schoolmate filed a police report, there was little that anybody could do to help him recover his email and his privacy.
Unfortunately such cases of cybercrime are becoming more common, thanks to the increasing availability of digitalised personal information, and individuals with high media profiles or wealthy individuals are at even greater risk of becoming targets.
The wealthy and famous have always struggled to maintain privacy, but to avoid being an easy cyber-target there are four steps you need to consider:
1. Upgrade your passwords
It can take just ten minutes for a hacker to crack a six-character lowercase password, and seven in ten technology users are victims of hacking – whether they know it or not.
The first step to securing privacy online is to create strong passwords. Co-author of The Cryptogic Password Protocol Murli Bhamidipati recommends having eight to twelve character passwords with a mix of numbers, symbols and both upper and lowercase letters. Instead of struggling to remember individual passwords, Bhamidipati suggests creating a set personal password formula, eliminating the need to remember separate passwords and PINs.
2. Upgrade your tech ‘armour’
Secure passwords alone are not enough. You need multiple layers of protection. A crucial step is making sure your computers, mobile phones, and other wireless devices have up-to-date protection capabilities such as encryption, firewalls, anti-virus and spyware-scanning software.
Oliver Crofton, co-founder of Vigilante Bespoke, is an ‘ethical hacker’ and an expert on personal digital security. ‘People don’t realise that wireless network signals can be picked up by hackers half a mile away. With an un-encrypted wireless network, outsiders can easily monitor your network without you being aware.’ As hackers become more sophisticated, it is important to upgrade your protection and scan for viruses and spyware regularly.
Regardless of the device, ‘Never just throw away an old mobile device or computer thinking you’re safe because you’ve already deleted all the information,’ Crofton says. ‘Without physically destroying the device memory, it can be possible to recover data even after deletion.’
If this is starting to sound too challenging, do as the celebrities do and call in a ‘cyber-bodyguard’. ‘Cyber-bodyguard’ services are quickly becoming a necessity for those who need expert help.
3. Keep a tight lip
Be mindful of the personal information you provide to organisations and companies. Also, consider how an organisation may use your personal information. For business owners and executives, requesting removal of your home address from the public Companies House register and seeking to block views of your home from Google may protect you from unwanted attention.
Even storing your credit card and wireless network passcodes online can be a risk, as happened recently when hackers stole the details of millions of Sony PlayStation Network customers. Single pieces of information shared online may seem harmless enough, but pieced together, they can be a powerful weapon for someone trying to impersonate you both on and offline.
4. The Facebook Rule
Remember that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are businesses making revenues from gathering and disseminating personal information. The old adag ‘Don’t do anything you don’t want to see on a newspaper front page’ is even more relevant for social networking sites. Don’t post anything online or via email that could later prove a security risk or an embarrassment if taken out of context, and if family or friends occasionally violate this rule on your behalf, ask them kindly to remove the content and follow up with a thank you.
Families should discuss what is appropriate and safe behaviour online. A simple tweet about being on holiday could alert burglars or squatters that you’re away. Posting anonymously may not be enough to protect your privacy as demonstrated by the outing of Austerity Mom, whose blog postings on her family’s spending habits brought unwanted media scrutiny into her and her husband’s private life.
If despite all your best efforts someone does violate your digital privacy, think twice before reacting. The best advice is to choose carefully who you take action against and to tailor the response. While it is possible to remove unlawful web content, not all circumstances may be worth the time, cost and effort, not to mention further media attention. Extreme violations will of course warrant legal action, but recent media examples highlight the limited powers of legal action and the failure of super-injunctions as iron-clad solutions.
You and those closest to you remain your first line of defense in maintaining your digital privacy.
Grace Maa is a wealth adviser to high net worth individuals and families with Collins Stewart Wealth Management in London