One of the most popular and critically acclaimed television shows of 2015 was USA’s Mr. Robot, a disturbing look into the ever-expanding world of hacking on both the personal and corporate level. The show’s central character is able to find personal information on friends and foes alike with ease, retrieving information from their web searches, private records, and personal hard drives as if looking them up in the phone book. All of this may lead you to wonder how much of your personal information is out there available to hackers and others who want us to find it for their own gain. One place to start is to look at the everyday objects in your life that are storing – and potentially leaking – your personal information.
The biggest culprit in the leaking of your personal information may be the one you keep closest at hand – your smartphone. Smartphones have changed the world by essentially giving the average person the ability to carry around a computer in their pocket where they can store personal email, photos, and applications providing access to private websites, bank accounts and so on. All that access to information in one place is irresistible to hackers. In many cases, however, the smartphone user is actually inviting third parties to come in and take their personal data by installing questionable apps onto their phone, including those available in the Apple store and Google Play, which are able to access and distribute users’ personal data. As many as 30% of free apps downloaded to the iOS and Android platforms gain access to the user’s contacts, photos, browsing histories and so on, in order to sell them to third parties. Smartphone users are advised to take caution with regard to the apps they download and may wish to purchase privacy-enabling apps which counteract the data-stealing effects of other apps.
Obviously, a credit card’s specific purpose is to quickly and efficiently deliver personal financial information to a second party to process your payment. Problems arise when the financial data provided in a credit card transaction is then retained either by the retailer or a third party altogether and then used for unauthorized purposes. For example, a waiter or clerk might take your credit card out of sight and slide it through a skimmer that will collect your personal data. Criminals may also install skimmers at gas station credit card readers, unmanned ATMs operated inside and outside of convenience stores, vending machines, and so on, which will collect your personal data and then immediately sell it to those around the world. The best way to avoid the threat of credit card theft schemes like these is to keep your card in sight as much as possible, avoid card readers that appear to be poorly maintained, and to consistently check your purchase history for unauthorized charges and report them to your credit card company as soon as possible.
Computers and Media Storage Devices
For many Americans these days, personal computers are essentially their file cabinets. Younger generations in fact avoid file cabinets altogether, opting for paperless delivery of all bills and financial records, and scanning whatever paper documents they do have onto their hard drives and (hopefully) shredding the tangible remnants. While digital security is constantly improving, the threats to digital privacy just keep on growing. Malware downloaded by consumers hoping to get free software or media continues to be a widespread problem, and questionable websites continue to have the power to infect users and their networks, providing access to personal data. The biggest source of malicious computer attacks these days may be through social media sites (where many computer users spend a great deal of their personal computing time), where malicious files can be quickly shared among friends with no understanding of their infectious content. One security company predicted malware attacks via social media would grow by 400% in 2015. As always, consumers are advised to update all their security systems and avoid downloading files or visiting sites without proper certification of their safety.
Another byproduct of the digital revolution is that as more and more consumers move to store their documents, photos, records and other media in cloud-based storage systems, such as those offered by Google, Amazon, Dropbox, and Apple (which, of course, present their own data security issues, as we saw in the celebrity photo hacking scandal in 2014), users may want to clear out the clutter of older storage devices by getting rid of unnecessary external hard drives, thumb drives, CDs, and other data storage devices by throwing them in the trash. Aside from the environmental impact of failing to recycle electronic material (which is significant), this means users may be leaving treasure troves of personal data in garbage cans and landfills, just waiting for thieves to collect them. Many electronics retailers, including Best Buy, offer free recycling of electronic and media storage devices and can advise you on proper and safe disposal.
Work with Trusted Data Security Attorneys
For more information on strategies for you and your business to avoid data security breaches associated with IoT devices and respond to breaches that may have already occurred, contact the data security attorneys at McCuneWright at 909.557.1250.