Tips on security and privacy in the digital world

Lock your doors. Don't leave valuables visible in your car. Know your neighborhood. Blend in. You follow these and other street smarts to minimize the chance of becoming a victim.

According to a May 2013 Pew Research survey, 85 percent of American adults use the internet. It is no wonder businesses continue to augment their real world presence with that of the digital world (i.e. websites); businesses that only exist in the digital world also continue to proliferate like mushrooms.

When a retail chain store announced a security breach of their point-of-sale system over the holidays, it reminded me of the need for this column to frequently revisit tips on practicing street smarts in the digital world, aka “internet street smarts.” True, consumers didn’t have much control in this latest incident, except perhaps if you had the foresight to use cash instead of plastic, but stopping to use plastic altogether may be an inconvenience.

What we do have control over, such as our computers or how we conduct ourselves while swimming in the digital world, can help us in many cases.

Tip #1: Use credit cards instead of debit cards. I know many of you may prefer using debit cards for personal reasons; I have friends who enjoy the financial management that debit cards provide. Perusing digests of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Fair Credit Billing Act, two laws protecting debit and credit cards respectively, combined with recent events of security breaches at entities dealing with our personally identifiable information, I’m concerned that if my debit card number and PIN (personal identification number) are breached it will take some time to restore my account balance, dependent on meeting fraud discovery and reporting time-frames plus other circumstantial parameters. Whereas if a fraudulent charge appears on your credit card your liability is currently capped at $50.

Tip #2: Stop using Windows XP after March of this year. In early April 2014 Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP. Continuing to use this 12-year-old version of Windows, especially when connected to the internet, will make your system vulnerable. More to come on this topic in the next issue!

Tip #3: Keep up with system updates. It might be frustrating having to continuously make improvements to something you bought outright, but operating system vendors like Microsoft and Apple routinely find new vulnerabilities in their product and provide free security updates; most software vendors do the same.

Tip #4: Don’t be click-happy. Depending on your personality you may have the urge to click on every link that is sent to you. Well, think twice before clicking on that link. Even links that look legitimate on the surface may be sending you to a completely different website through the smoke screen made possible by deceptive programming.

Tip #5: Always have an active antivirus subscription and an anti-malware program. Although the best defense is the gray matter between your ears, these software programs are necessary and help to protect you when you slip.

Next issue’s topic: "Farewell Windows XP, you were a great friend"

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with 20+ years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart, "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps Individuals, Seniors, Families, Small Businesses, and Non-Profits utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

Read More on The Digital World
Volume 6, Issue 3, Posted 10:21 AM, 02.04.2014