Personal Security in the Digital Age:
Navigating Machiavelli’s Playground

Technology is ever growing and evolving, bringing new and exciting advances into the modern world. Computers make our lives easier in innumerable daily activities, be it instantly paying bills online, buying the latest best seller on Amazon, looking up the closest movie theatre on the car’s GPS or searching for a dinner recipe on the refrigerator’s built-in touch screen. Of course, with these daily aides comes the ever-growing risk of our technology being used against us.

Media attention has shifted to the dangers of Internet connected devices as of late, giving the public its first clear look at what the world of cyber security handles. Nearly every week, a new announcement surfaces regarding banks or big-box retailers being targeted, personal information compromised or intimate photos leaked. With each new successful attack the need for stronger security becomes ever more evident. Most of this security is focused on the larger companies – Target needs to bolster its card security, Apple needs to take more precautions with its Cloud technology – but there are things that individuals can and must do to play their part as well.

Keeping your family and yourself safe in this ever-changing environment is no small feat. However, there are a number of steps you can take to shore up your personal cyber-security. Though you may not be able to prevent every attack, you can lower your risk, stop many and be prepared for the ones that do get through.

What can one person do? The good news is cyber-security starts with the individual.

As with any confrontation, it is imperative to know what you are up against. How much of your household technology is hackable? Which can be used against you if they become compromised? Any Internet-connected device is at risk of being infiltrated, from your baby monitor to your favorite gaming console. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use them, though – there are some simple things you can do to maintain your privacy.

Tips for Safeguarding Your Computer

Even the most basic security setups require that you keep your computer up to date. Updates are not only issued to better user end software but to patch discovered security flaws. Ignoring updates is a swift way to weaken many other security options.

Use proper password etiquette! Passwords should be a minimum of eight characters. Use upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols, but avoid grouping the different types of characters together (for instance, Password123). Do not use the same password for multiple accounts, do not share your passwords with anyone and, if you have too many passwords to remember, store a handwritten copy in a safe access-controlled place. Avoid using the password save function your computer offers.

 

In addition, virus protection software allows you to react swiftly if something malicious does make its way onto your system. There are many to choose from, ranging from run-in-the-background to system wide control, so it’s important to do your research to determine the best choice for you.

Using Common Sense

Using common sense goes a long way in the digital world. You can avoid a lot of trouble by ignoring suspicious emails and avoiding untrusted sites. Some of the easiest ways to become the victim of a scam or virus is by clicking on random links, visiting suspicious websites, opening strange email attachments and falling for phishing scams.

Keep in mind that everything you put on social media is available to everyone, and likely to be accessible in some way even if you delete it. Knowing the difference between what should and should not be private is crucial; aside from not posting sensitive information, it’s not necessary to let everyone know where you are and what you are doing. Photos of you drinking with friends are more likely to cause future trouble than a day at the park with your dog.

The same goes for information you place in the Cloud. Regardless of what Cloud service you use, your data could be at risk. When it comes to important documents that you may want to have access to, such as birth and marriage certificates, social security cards and insurance documents, keep them physically or on an encrypted CD or device that is not accessible by the Internet. Though the Cloud is convenient, it is far from impenetrable; use it for photos you don’t mind others seeing, audiobook and music files, a clean back-up of your operating system and non-sensitive application files only.

Be aware of how many cameras you have in your home and with you on the go. With the average number of devices in each home these days, it isn’t strictly necessary for someone wishing to spy on you to bug anything – in many cases you do it for them. Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf found out the hard way exactly how such devices could be used against her when a perpetrator hijacked her computer, turned on her webcam and took images of her undressing in real-time without her knowledge. Obviously, be mindful of what is within view of capture-enabled devices.

Security-minded Online Banking

Banking is extremely easy in the modern age, and though banks have a number of security measures in place by default, it’s your job to put them to good use and implement a few of your own. As with any site, make sure your password follows the tips set out above. Legitimate employees of any company already have access to your account, so if anyone asks for your log in information, or directs you to do anything abnormal, it is likely a scam.

There are optional security measures your bank can put in place, such as security tokens. You can ask your bank about setting up a virtual fob, which generates an instant random code, to access your account. If hackers are able to access one of your accounts within a financial institution, they may be able to draw money from all of your accounts at that institution if these accounts are linked – as, for instance, through overdraft protection. For this reason, consider opening an unconnected account at a different bank in case of emergency.

What else can I do?

You don’t need to be an information security professional to understand the basics of your own security needs. Information is available and universities offer classes on the subject to the public online. Though many common sense choices can keep your information and privacy safe, the best way to protect sensitive information is by understanding its value.

Proper security starts at the individual level but does not end there. While it is true that companies and the government are late to the game, public awareness is finally leading to a significant and well-founded outcry. Some companies have started to answer this call. As this outcry increases with each cyber attack that makes headlines, the additional social pressure for privacy and security will require reexamination and action.


This article is based on the KT Designs’ white paper, “Privacy, Security and Mitigating Risk in the Digital Age: A ‘How To Guide’ for Navigating Machiavelli’s Playground for the individual.To access the whitepaper in its entirety for free, please visit the whitepaper section of our website: http://www.kt-designs.org/white-papers/

KT Designs is a privately owned company that operates on the ideals of honesty, integrity and transparency. We are experienced in working on cases and projects of all sizes and in most jurisdictions, including internationally. We are devoted to the personal and intellectual growth of our employees and clients, and to facilitating continued learning in our audiences on the most complicated of topics. We consider our clients’ satisfaction and confidentiality above all else.

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