The Importance of Cyber Security
All you need to do is turn on the news these days and you'll quickly find out just how dangerous cyber threats are becoming. Cyber thieves are targeting large companies such as Target, Home Depot, and others, trying to steal consumer credit card information that can be used for destructive purposes. Cyber security isn't just the responsibility of companies that you share your information with though, it also depends upon you. If you're proactive, it goes a long way in protecting your sensitive information.
The Threat from Cyber Thieves
A data breach report issued by telecom giant Verizon at the end of 2014 issued the dire statement that "the bad guys are winning." According to the Verizon report, there were 63,000 confirmed security incidents around the world in 2014. Of those, 1,367 were confirmed data breaches that affected residents of 95 countries around the globe.
Tactics used by cyber thieves change from year to year as businesses and governments react to threats. For example, point-of-sale intrusions aimed at collecting consumer payment data have actually fallen from 31% of incidents in 2011 to 14%. Cyber-espionage, such as Chinese hacks on US government databases, have grown from 15% of incidents in 2011 to 22% today.
In many cases, the reactionary approach of businesses and governments results in incidents being detected only after a breach has occurred. This was the case in all of the major recent events, from Target and Home Depot to the Pentagon and IRS. So, how can you protect yourself?
Prioritize Your Most Sensitive Accounts
Any of your accounts that link directly to your bank account or have your credit card information synced need to be the primary focus of your cyber security efforts. You should never use the same password for all of your online accounts, whether it's social media or your online banking site. When it comes to your financial accounts and health records, which should be your highest priority, adjust your passwords and security levels to the highest possible standards.
This includes adjusting the access and authentication levels on your account. Change your password and security questions on a regular basis, and if you have an advanced smartphone with biometric authentication, take advantage. It's difficult for thieves to steal something like your fingerprint.
Stay Up-to-Date on Security Patches
All of the devices you use to access sensitive information pose a potential threat to the safety of your information. As such, it is important to keep your operating systems, browsers, and other critical software up to date with the latest security patches so that you minimize the threat from constantly changing viruses and malware floating around online.
The most important step you can take is common sense. Avoid sharing your sensitive information with various online resources. When possible, avoid sharing your credit card information on questionable e-commerce websites, and conduct regular audits of your accounts to ensure that small problems don't become big ones.
For example, a common tactic used by credit card thieves is to start with small, inane charges to see what happens. If you don't shut down your card or alert the bank, the next charge to your card could be significant. If you don't recognize a charge, call your bank immediately.
Adopting a proactive approach to your own cyber security is the best thing you can do to protect your information from thieves. Remember, the less your information is used online, the less likely you are to find your information included in a giant hack.