Staying safe in the digital world

Each week seems to bring a new attack in the digital world, aka cyber attack, against companies that hold our sensitive information. With the currency of the digital world being our information, and not greenbacks as in the real world, it will get worse before getting better. Also regulation is still catching up in the digital world requiring breached companies to report the incident sooner than later; it wasn’t always like that in the past.

Technology is just a tool; “people” use the tool following a “process” through which value may be created. After each publicized cyber attack the media usually uncovers and expounds on how the decisions people made, and the process in which the tool was used (or not used), are partially or wholly responsible for the breach of our information.

So how can you minimize the chance of being victimized in the digital world? Although you don’t have much, if any, control over security procedures at the companies, you still have skin in the game: your own process when using the tool (technology). Your efforts matter because there are many variations to cyber attacks like viruses, malware and other nasties vying for your tools and the information you keep on them. So here are some tips:

Keep your technology up-to-date by applying updates and patches. This is analogous to checking your tire pressure and changing your engine oil.

Utilize free or subscription-based anti-virus and anti-malware software/apps. Malware, short for malicious software, is an umbrella term that covers virus, spyware, ransomware, adware, etc. Malware is device agnostic, meaning that many have the potential to infect Windows and Mac computers alike because they are distributed through the browser that you use to explore the internet. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are not exempt either.

Don’t be click-happy. Anti-malware tools can only protect you so much; your habits matter more. Think twice before clicking a link that a friend sends via email or which pops up in your social network update.

Most financial institutions do not ask you for your information through email. Email communications are inherently insecure and the institutions know that. Instead many send notifications for you to log in to their website when they need to communicate something sensitive. My tip here is to go to the website directly instead of clicking on the supplied link. A hassle of additional steps, but better be safe than sorry as impersonating is pretty easy in the digital world.

Stop using Windows XP. Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP on April 8, 2014, meaning any new vulnerabilities are not patched – making you a potential target.

Use credit cards instead of debit cards. My debit card just expired and I asked for an ATM-only card as a replacement. From a technology geek's perspective and not as a financial geek, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and Fair Credit Billing Act, two laws protecting debit and credit cards respectively, seems to protect fraudulent activities against credit cards better.

Refrain from conducting any sensitive transactions while using public Wi-Fi. In the real world there is no privacy in the public; the same applies in the digital world. Accessing your bank and credit card accounts, buying things where you have to type in your payment method, and other tasks that require you to divulge private information are examples of sensitive transactions. If you find yourself needing to conduct sensitive transactions while on public Wi-Fi, subscribe to a VPN service (Virtual Private Network). Other than that, even for simple tasks such as checking your email, look for the presence of  “s” as in “https://” preceding the address of your email server.

Tak Sato

Business and technology strategist/consultant with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and MBA from Cleveland State University.

As founder of geek with a heart consulting, "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.

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Volume 6, Issue 21, Posted 10:10 AM, 10.14.2014