By Rodney Nelsestuen, retired Chief Information Officer
We all know the threats to online security are constantly changing. The challenges of being an active online and social media user while protecting our identity highlight the important role we all have in keeping our business and personal finances safe.
So, what are some of the current strategies used by hackers and what should we do about them?
Today’s online thief is patient and persistent. Thieves are taking their time in collecting data about us from many sources. Even the most mundane aspects of our lives may be important when added to other data taken from our personal lives, from social media (both our posts and those of friends and family,) and from our workplace. Eventually, all this information is applied in a manner that mimics our personality and behaviors in a convincing way.
How is this possible?
Once a “bad actor,” an online thief or fraudster, has some of your information and your online lifestyle, getting more becomes easy as automated intelligence (AI) serves up a large plate of your preferences, enabling the thief to fully take your place – at least in a virtual sense.
Thus, it’s entirely possible we have a virtual clone navigating the internet, posing as us, and preparing to wreak havoc on our lives by, essentially, taking it for their own.
So, how do we minimize the risk of this happening to us?
Steps to Minimize Risk
Drop out of social media
There are people who have already done this. But dropping out is probably not realistic for most of us. We rely on social media to keep up with friends and family, share joy, sorrow, important information, and we generally find social media a good force in our lives.
Limit what we share on social media
It could be worth our time to more closely manage what is posted and left on social media. Exposing too much about ourselves just makes it easier for thieves to enrich the already valuable data sources available to them.
Talk with family and friends about what you will and will not share on social media and encourage them to do the same. For some of us, posting is done almost willy-nilly, without thought and often reveals deep details that may later be used to compromise our financial or personal lives. Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone to discuss certain aspects of our lives instead of posting them.
Choose our connections in a more deliberate manner
It may be best to limit the number of friends we have online. Most of us have connections that may not be critical to a good social media experience but were set up out of curiosity or recommendations from friends. Examine the controls available on the social media site and narrow what others can see, keeping those closest to you fully engaged, but limiting others.
But Nothing is Fool-Proof. What’s the Next Step?
Because there’s no fool-proof methodology to protecting our identity or our money, we might leverage the tools provided by our most trusted businesses – including banks. Spending the time to fully understand the options and controls that we can employ will allow us to be active participants in managing online threats and help us move from a purely defensive posture to playing offense against the bad guys.
How can we do this?
Actively manage credit and debit cards through apps
Today most of these products have a number of controls that we can actively implement. These include:
- Turning our credit or debit cards on and off when suspicious activity takes place
- Setting alerts to notify us via text messages of certain types of transactions or amounts
- Establishing an out-of-band authentication process when accessing any private financial site to verify your identity through two sources, like your password and a code texted to your phone
These three options will keep us informed on what’s happening to our financial accounts and provide additional assurance that we are, in fact, interacting with our bank and not a fake site.
We have apps for Merchants Bank Debit and Credit Cards that allow you to control your security preferences and set up alerts for when the cards are used.
Have security systems on your computer
It’s fundamental, and a best practice, to have strong antivirus systems on all of our computers. Most of us have these types of subscriptions given they were bundled with the purchase the last time we bought a computer. Make sure, however, that the software also has:
- anti-phishing capabilities that can be deployed (or not) at will.
There are additional options we might employ: we can download software that provides an additional layer of security on the computer itself. These tools may harden our computer, keyboard, or mouse against exploitation by hackers. Most of these technologies do not interfere with online speed or performance.
The Solution: Marry Technology and Cautious Online Practices
No technology alone can completely protect us from financial loss or ID theft. Technology needs to be coupled with smart interactions when online. Combining conservative practices, knowing who we are interacting with, using the technologies available through banks and on our own devices bring a holistic approach to securing our online selves and reducing the risks associated with today’s virtual world.