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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guest blogger: 5 Reasons We All Need to Take Online Security Seriously

5 Reasons We All Need to Take Online Security Seriously


--Philip J Reed, on behalf of Westwood College (philiplocation3@yahoo.com)

More and more aspects of our lives move online every day. Our professional lives, our personal lives, our financial lives, and sometimes even our love lives become entangled in the world of the internet. As a result, online security is more important than ever…yet many people remain unaware of the very real risks that they face. We all know the importance of locking our doors and of not leaving our keys in the car, but cyber security is equally important. Here are five reasons why.

1. Your money can be stolen.
As we do more shopping and banking online, we potentially expose things like our credit card, bank account numbers and investment holdings to the online ether. This leaves a number of opportunities for your financial data to become compromised. Your credit card could be intercepted over an insecure connection, or a cybercriminal could simply break into your account by guessing your password. (This is why it’s important to choose secure ones. It’s more than just a suggestion; it’s a necessity!) Your information could also be compromised by spyware or malware on your computer which captures your passwords and sends them to cyber criminals.

2. Your reputation can be damaged.
Imagine what would happen if you mislaid your smartphone and a vandal decided to send obscene emails to people in your address book, or if they posted inappropriate material to your Facebook account. And that’s not even taking into account the banking details or other potentially dangerous information (or photographs) that you may have saved on your phone. You do not need to be the victim of an elaborate scheme to suffer serious consequences for not protecting personal information with strong passwords; it can be as simple as letting your phone out of your sight. Be careful!

3. Much of your data is at risk of loss.
The risk of loss increases as personal and business data is increasingly migrated online to cloud storage tools. Anyone with access to your password could wipe out your data. For home users, this could include your email, your music, and even your family's photographs. Businesses bear the risk of losing a whole range of important information as well as of being exposed to industrial espionage, not to mention the liability that comes from having their customers’ personal information compromised. The “house of cards” image is an apt one; if cyber criminals manage to find even one way in, the entire structure can come crashing down. No matter how much money you invest in a secure infrastructure or how many employees you send off to cyber security training, your data (and your network) is only ever as strong as your password.

4. You could have your identity stolen.
Just by reading the information you post to Facebook, Myspace, message boards or anything else online, identity thieves can get everything they need to know about you. Names are often easily guessed from your choice of login, if they’re not outright stated on your profile. Ages and birthdates are often inadvertently given away by friends wishing you a happy one, and your area of residence can be all too easily indicated by the pictures you upload, the places that you blog about, or the locations from which you “check in” with your various applications. You can compromise your identity several times a day without even realizing it…but the thieves certainly do realize it. They can use this information to guess your password, or to track down other things about you, racking up bad debts and even criminal prosecutions in your name.

5. Rebuilding can take years.
Rebuilding from online security breaches is never easy. Once the information about you is compromised, it’s compromised forever. You can change your screen name or, in extreme circumstances, you could move, but you can’t change your birth date, your social security number, or your mother’s maiden name. This is information that can be permanently used against you, and it can take years (and often a large amount of money) to mitigate the damage.
In fact, if an online vandal does enough damage to your good name, that damage might never be completely undone.

Don’t put yourself unnecessarily at risk. If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s just that you should be careful. Much of what we discuss above could be avoided or minimized by simple awareness and common sense. Don’t spend the rest of your life paying for a lapse in judgment you make today. Take online security seriously. You will be glad you did.

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