There’s been explosive growth in the use of digital and internet technologies over the last two decades. Consumers often enter their personal and payment information into websites, apps and other services using numerous devices.
Regrettably, consumers and industry sometimes find they’ve traded functionality and convenience for security and privacy.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, an opportunity to ensure you’re taking the best steps to keep your personal information safe and to learn more about protecting your online presence.
Brian Hurley, a cyber security expert and instructor at Metropolitan Community College, says that this year, unfortunately, we didn’t have to wait until October to get a big reminder about the need for a personal security review. A security breach at Equifax, one of the “Big 3” credit bureaus, led to the potential compromise of personal information for more than 140 million Americans. Even more recently, Sonic restaurants experienced a breach that led to a still-undetermined amount of stolen customer data.
Chances are, your personal information has been swiped at some point.
While organizations that collect customer information have a huge responsibility to protect the information they collect, consumers also need to be aware of strategies to help keep their personal data safe. Hurley, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), offers these tips:
Consider a credit freeze: A credit freeze may be the most effective way to protect yourself from unauthorized use of your credit information. This prevents new accounts that require a credit check from being opened in your name. If you’re considering this, you should freeze your accounts at all three credit reporting companies.
Regularly monitor your credit report: Consumers can request one free copy of their credit report each year through annualcreditreport.com. You may also choose to sign up for a credit monitoring and fraud detection service that can be helpful in detecting suspicious activity. Also, don’t forget to regularly monitor the credit of your kids. Even if they have no open lines of credit, their information can be stolen and used as well.
Check your statements: Thieves often test accounts with small purchases first to see if they are open before making large purchases. And these fraudulent purchases of any size can occur long after the information was stolen.
Consider adding a passcode to your bank and credit card accounts: This is a personal code word used as an extra step when attempting to identify a caller to customer service or a visitor to a bank branch.
Take advantage of multifactor authentication where available: Multifactor sign-ins to a website — online banking, for instance — require more than just your user name and password. There might be a security question, or you might receive a special code in a text or email. These extra steps can be extremely effective in helping prevent unauthorized access to your accounts.
- The strongest passwords are at least 15 characters long and include a mix of letters, numbers and special characters.
- Avoid re-using passwords on different sites.
- Use caution when setting up security questions. Choose questions with answers that nobody would know or could find out. Better yet, make up your own code words for answers to security questions.
File your income taxes early: Experts predict that thieves will submit returns under stolen identities in an attempt to receive your refund before you file.
There’s demand for skilled graduates in the cyber security field. Metropolitan Community College offers programs in Secure Systems Administration and Engineering; Cisco Networking; and Software Development that train professionals for those positions.
“Many experts predict a shortage of qualified professionals available to fill open positions in coming years,” Hurley says.
MCC’s programs blend current network and systems administration concepts with essential security skills and best practices necessary to deploy, administer and harden computer and network systems.
For more information about MCC’s cyber security programs, call 816.604.1000 or visit mcckc.edu/programs/securesystemadmin. You may also contact Brian Hurley directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more tips on protecting yourself and your family online, visit staysafeonline.org.
Related: KSHB Channel 41’s Rae Daniel interviewed Hurley and two MCC students. Watch her report here.