Think of all the companies you do business with.
Every online retailer… every brick-and-mortar establishment… every app you’ve purchased… every bill you’ve paid…
Each one of those companies stores your personal information — everything from your name and address to your credit card number and Social Security number — the easier to facilitate repeat purchases or payments.
But unfortunately, the vast majority of companies do little or nothing to safeguard your personal information, leaving you wide open to phishing attempts, cyberattacks and identity theft.
A recent report from the software and cybersecurity company Varonis reveals some sobering statistics about how easy it is to access company files containing customers’ personal data. The report found that:
- 21% of all folders in a company were open to every single employee
- 41% of companies have over 1,000 sensitive files open to every employee
- A staggering 88% of companies with more than 1 million folders have over 100,000 folders open to everyone.
Another report compiled by International Data Corp. (IDC) found that 65% of U.S. companies have experienced a data breach. More than the global average.
And lo and behold…
Last week, finance giant Capital One admitted that the personal information of roughly 106 million people had been exposed in a massive breach — including approximately 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 bank account numbers.
This story came out on the heels of news that Equifax had reached a $650 million consumer settlement resulting from the 2017 breach, in which nearly 150 million customers had their data leaked.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You may be eligible to claim some of that $650 million settlement… Go here to find out if you were affected by the Equifax hack. You’ll have to file a claim by Jan. 22, 2020, to receive your benefits, but why wait? Find out how to file here.
Look — the fact is one in three Americans is affected by a data breach every year. If you dodged Equifax (I did), you might get hit by Capital One. Or maybe the next one.
There will be a next one.
So today I’m going to run down four quick things you can do to clean up your digital security right now. It may seem futile, but it’s better to make the effort.
Sure — you can’t drain the ocean… but you can plug up your boat.
1. Uninstall programs you don’t use
If you have software on your devices that you don’t use anymore — games, apps, plug-ins, programs downloaded from the internet — go ahead and delete them now. This will help keep your machines virus-free.
That’s because hackers will often infect older software programs that lack the latest security updates. Not only will deleting extra software reduce the chance of an old program infecting your computer but your computer will run faster too.
2. Update your passwords
Even though everyone knows you should update your passwords on a regular basis, I guarantee this is something most people never do. Criminals target passwords that can be easily guessed. Make sure you have recently changed your passwords and they aren’t all the same.
New password guidelines from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology suggest you create a password made up of a string of simple English words — words that mean something to you (and only you) that will be easy to remember.
Something like “OctopusThanksgivingBermudaTimeWarp,” for example, will take MUCH longer to guess — even for a computer.
3. Install the latest updates
Check each of your devices for the latest security fixes and updates. If your devices don’t check for updates automatically, make it a habit to check yourself — often.
It’s not uncommon for hackers to find a software loophole that causes the software company immediately to release a fix to prevent a security breach. The problem is this won’t do you any good if you haven’t completed the update.
So if you haven’t updated your devices in a while, take a minute and do it now.
4. Download and use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) allows you to connect to the internet via a server run by an independent provider. It securely encrypts your data and hides your physical location by replacing your IP address with one from the provider.
Using a VPN makes it more difficult for hackers to infect your computer especially if you are using public Wi-Fi — but it’s great for all-around safe searching. Not only does a VPN protect you from cyberattacks, but it also makes it harder for marketers to collect data on your internet use.
TunnelBear, for example, has a strict no logs policy, meaning it doesn’t log user activities. And it features the latest encryption protocols for the highest privacy and security.
Now, any VPN worth its salt will cost a monthly fee. But it’s worth it — considering the time and money you’d have to spend if your identity were stolen. If you’re not using a VPN yet, click here now to give them a try.
(Editor’s Note: We do receive compensation when you buy from our partners — that’s how we keep the lights on. But we only choose partners we believe in and use ourselves — so you can rest assured, our recommendations are real.)
All right, you have your marching orders. These four action items shouldn’t take you any more than an hour in total to complete — tops. Then you can go about the rest of your day safe in the knowledge your information is protected.
At least for a while.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
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