Protecting Your Privacy
By Diane Tait
|Image courtesy flickr|
If you’re like me, you probably never go anywhere without your smartphone. You probably also have a plethora of web-enabled devices around your home and office. If you drive a late model automobile you realize that everything from your vehicle’s GPS to the satellite radio you love to listen to as you motor down the interstate are all tracking your location and your preferences with every mile that passes by. While most modern Americans would be lost without many of the modern technological conveniences that we feel we can no longer do without, I’m here to tell you that all those electronic bells and whistles don’t come without a certain amount of baggage. Today’s smart devices track our movements, listen to what we say and records all our interactions with our friends, family and coworkers. With the loss of privacy come several perils to not only our freedom, but our financial security as well.
Who’s Listening In?
Data mining is big business these days. Everyone from big box retailers to search engines and social networks want to record, analyze, package and sell what you read, like, buy and think. Every time you sign up for a free service, app or program online, you agree in return to let the provider gather and sell your data. Sometimes you even agree to allow the provider to install additional apps and algorithms on your machine when you sign up. (If you don’t believe me, take the time to read the agreement you click on whenever you opt-in for a freebie online.)
Add to this, when you use voice-activated devices using Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana, your requests are recorded, stored and analyzed. Talk about Big Brother, this stuff makes George Orwell seem like an optimist. While I’m not saying that you should cease and desist using all that 21st Century technology has to offer, what I’d like you to do is consider how many prying eyes do you want looking into your lifestyle?
Are You a Social Butterfly?
If you’re into social posting here’s something to consider. Cybercriminals make a nice living from social networks. That’s because most people share way too much about their lives, their loves and their families on social nets. This is just what every hacker desires. Once they get plugged into any of your social nets as a friend, a technically savvy cybercriminal can quickly learn where you live and work, the names of your spouse and kids, even when and where you like to vacation. Like it or not, a lot of those who have been victimized by online crooks in the form of identity theft have left the barn door wide open by providing far too much information on their social networks. It can get so bad that cyberthieves can hack their way into taking control of your social nets or even your bank accounts based on the info you provided.
Wi-Fi to the Danger Zone
|Image courtesy Public Domain Pictures|
When you are away from home, do you ever use public wi-fi nodes? So do hackers. That’s because most free wi-fi is unprotected. Ideally, a hacker wants to get between you and the websites you visit. There are several ways for them to do this:
1. A Man in the Middle Hack occurs when the hacker sees the info going to and from your computer. Once accomplished, the MITM attack allows a hacker to both intercept and alter the communication that you believe is private.
2. The Evil Twin is a lot like the MITM attack with a twist. The twist is instead of hacking into the free wi-fi, the hackers launch their own rogue wi-fi hotspot to lure in victims. Connect to these rogue hotspots and any hacker can see and collect all the data you send, including credit card numbers, banking routing numbers, email and more.
3. Packet Sniffers are designed to collect all packets of data that pass through your device’s network interface card. This allows a hacker to listen in on the information you send through your device to use for their own nefarious purposes.
While I’m not saying you need to avoid using all free wi-fi hotspots in restaurants, coffee-shops and hotels, what I do recommend is if you use public wi-fi you protect your device by installing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which will make it almost impossible for hackers to access your data or read your passwords. For less than the cost of a mochaccino you can add a VPN to your device for a month.
How Smart is Your Smart Home?
|Image courtesy Max Pixel|
If you own a Smart TV or any other “smart” appliance or smart lock, you need to be careful you don’t give thieves the keys to the vault. That’s because many smart devices have little or no security. Even worse, if your smart devices communicate with other web-enabled devices in your home or office, then it’s a no-brainer for hackers to gain entry to every device connected to your network.
I recently saw a TV show where a security expert demonstrated how easy it was to turn an offices phone system into a listening post. The way he did it was by sending a resume to a printer in the office. The resume contained malware that rewired the firmware on the printer. This enabled the malware to locate and infect all the phones in the office, since the phones were attached to the office’s local area network. From that point on, the hackers could activate any phone’s microphone even when it was hung up.
Hackers can perform similar mischief in your home by simply exploiting the vulnerability in any of your home’s smart devices. Once they hack their way into one device, they can then use your home’s wi-fi router to jump from device to device. This allows hackers to commandeer the devices or even turn on any device’s microphone or webcam at will. Talk about creepy.
The solution is first and foremost to make sure your wi-fi network is secure. To accomplish this, change your router’s password for starters. Many routers have known default passwords which any hacker can exploit. Then change the router’s local area network IP address as well, since doing this prevents cross-site request forgery attacks that rely on default IP addresses commonly assigned to these devices.
Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance. To find out more about how you can save money on home owner’s insurance, go to her site or fill out the form at right.