Digital Security: Be Deliberate, Be Judicious

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Almost daily we hear of new and troubling attacks, hacks, and loss of key data and information, all taken from the online world by digital thieves. The technical ins and outs of these events are often confusing and complex and it’s easy to feel powerless to do anything about them. Yet, we can reduce risk by being deliberate and judicious in our use of digital resources. Here are two steps we can all take today:

Step 1 – Know who we are doing business with
Review privacy policies, learn about security practices, and apply common sense. Stop visiting or engaging with companies or sites that leave us uncomfortable. According to the Business Insider, there are now more than 644 million active websites on the Internet – so chances are the company you are doing business with is not the only provider. As part of Security Awareness Week (June 1-6), Merchants Bank has provided some quick steps to help you identify if a website is legitimate.

Step 2 – Enjoy the social network but…
The FBI cyber center reports the use of social media by cyber criminals has grown 400% since 2009. Sharing too much online allows thieves to build a near complete picture of who we are and then use that information to outright steal (or con others into revealing) otherwise protected data. Instead of posting everything about our lives, pick up the phone, send a note, or get together with friends. After all, it is those close to us who are most interested in what we have to share.

Some of the best approaches to security do not involve technology. By being more deliberate in how we share information, and more judicious in what we share, we can reduce the risks that, if our online information is compromised, it will have little value to thieves and cannot be used against us.

For more security information, sign up for Merchants Bank security tips and alerts via email.

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Watch Out for These Red Flags to Stay Safe While Shopping Online

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It is hard to overstate the popularity of online shopping. There is almost no category of product that can’t be purchased online. From wedding dresses, to pets and potato chips, consumers are heading online to purchase things that only a few years ago would have been considered strange to buy online. With so many online stores to choose from, it can be hard to tell which are legitimate and which could leave you vulnerable to scam or identity theft.

One of the easiest ways to tell if a website is secure is by looking for a Trust Seal.

“Typically, these seals are associated with secure sockets layer, or SSL for short,” states John Rampton, a Forbes contributor. “This simply means that your site has been verified and that there is a secure transmission for customers to safely enter their credit card information.”

When you are shopping online, you may have run into one of the seals and not even realized it. If you searched for a store through Google, for example, you probably have seen the small logo with a checkmark that states “Google Trusted Stores,” which is the search engine’s own Trust Seal. There are also several other companies that examine stores and give out trust seals.

“While trust seals are an important feature for [an] e-commerce website, which seals are the most reliable?” asks Rampton.  “In a survey conducted by the research group the Baymard Institute, the most trusted badge was Norton, with 36 percent of the votes. This was followed by McAfee (23 percent), TRUSTe (13.2 percent) and BBB Accredited (13.2 percent).”

The other ways that you can determine an online store’s trustworthiness are much less clear-cut than Trust Seals. Online reviews, for example, are one of the most important ways that consumers make decisions about a business’s reputation. If an online store has many positive reviews, you will likely feel safer giving it your credit card information. It is entirely possible for a good online store to not have many reviews, however, and positive reviews can be faked, so it is not a foolproof method.

It is also important to not ignore your gut feeling when shopping online. If you find a product for significantly less than every other store selling it, then that is a definite red flag. Another tactic to keep an eye out for is if a store claims to have the product you are looking for during an initial search, but then tries to redirect you to other similar products because they do not actually have what you need.

Furthermore, if a website doesn’t seem professionally designed, is extremely outdated, or very difficult to navigate, you may want to find another.

“Would you seriously give your credit card information to [a] website that looks like it belongs in 1995?” asks Rampton. “Common sense would say absolutely not.”

You should also look for contact information that would allow you to speak with an employee if you have questions or problems with your order. If there is no way to contact customer service, that is a big red flag.

Once you decide to make a purchase, there are further things to keep in mind.

“Don’t send your credit card details via email, post them on social media (even in a private message), or enter them on an unsecured website,” states Lexy Savvides from Cnet.com. “Don’t give away more information than you need. Retailers generally don’t need to know details like your date of birth or social security number, so why disclose it if you don’t have to?”

If you keep this information in mind and always choose the path of caution, you should be able to shop online without incident.

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Cyber Security Tips for Business Owners

CyberSecurityTipsIf you own a business, your list of stressors is probably vast: Sales, employee turnover, competition — so the last thing you want to worry about is your cyber security. Nevertheless, it’s important to establish an official security plan. Why? Cyber fraud (any crime that involves a computer and/or network) is becoming more and more of a frequent issue. In fact, companies with 250 employees or less suffered more than 30 percent of all online attacks last year (up from about 18 percent in 2011), according to Symantec.com’s 2013 Internet Security Threat Report.

“Cyber criminals are business people, too,” said Arild Jensen, owner of Secos Security, a Granada Hills, CA firm that specializes in cyber security for small businesses. “They’re going to go for the easiest, most rewarding target.”

Fear not. Here are five easy ways to make sure your business’s Internet environment is as secure as it can be.

1. Choose strong passwords. Make sure passwords — for e-mail, Wi-Fi, websites and other platforms — are secure. The most important aspect of creating a password: How long it is.

“The length of the password matters more than its absolute complexity,” explains Steve Gibson, president of Gibson Research in CA. They should be eight or more characters. For even more protection, include letters, numbers, punctuation or special symbols, like an exclamation point.

2. Stay up to date — on everything. That means having the latest security software, web browser, operating system, etc., which can help guard against viruses, malware and other online threats. Most of these programs can be set to update automatically. Also important: Whenever you update your antivirus software, make sure to run a scan afterward. Installing or updating your antispyware technology is crucial as well. Spyware — as the title suggests — essentially spies on you, and is able to access personal information from your business without you knowing.

3. Pay attention to Wi-Fi. Rename your office network and change the password often, about every five or six months.

“Almost anyone can go online and find software that will automatically break into [the network],” explains Michael Hicks, director of the University of Maryland — College Park’s Cybersecurity Center. Tip: Avoid making the network title your company’s name.

4. Work with your financial institution. Ask your financial institution about protection programs. They may be able to offer a plan that allows you to monitor any suspicious activity that has occurred, like checking payments that you don’t recognize. This can help you prevent any unauthorized transactions before they occur.

5. Back up your data regularly. Sometimes, even when you do everything right, hacking can still occur. Having backup copies of important business data and information ensures that you’ll never have to start from square one. Store extra files (everything from Word documents and spreadsheets to human resource info and financial files) at a location other than your office. To make it easier, set up your files so they get backed up automatically.

6. Educate your employees.
Making sure workers are up to speed on the safest online tactics means less of a chance of a cyber mishap. Also instill the importance of not posting any confidential business-related information on social media platforms they may have, and that they don’t store business-related information on personal hard drives. Your employee’s passwords should also be different from what they use for personal passwords.

 

Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

All that Glitters is Not Gold

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There are some businesses that operate on the edge of the truth. You know them. You see them throughout the media, populating the web and video. While what they are saying may have some truth to it, it may not be the whole truth.

These companies will give something of value for your investment (though not nearly to the level of your investment). Because of that, many of these companies are legal and operate legitimately, albeit at the edge of legitimacy.

What we are asking you to do is to be skeptical of the claims these companies make. Use your common sense. The old adage remains true: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

For instance, there’s a company that sells “historical bonds,” claiming they have exceptional value. They do have value as collector’s items, but nothing more. The bonds were paid off in the 1800s after a bankruptcy. Another company claims that being a member can help you stop a mortgage foreclosure and your loan can be paid in full. You do receive some value for your “membership,” but the company often falls short of its claims.

There are several resources that can help you stay on guard against potential scams, such as the U.S. Treasury Fraud Alerts page, or our Merchants Bank security page, or our Alerts page. Protect yourself and your family by taking the time to understand what is being offered and your true costs.

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