Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Guest Editorials: Jennifer Richmond and Internet Security

When was the last time you paused and wondered about the safety of your online information? Most users of free services like Facebook and Gmail don't think about the true cost of their account, but there is a lot of information being captured. To get some advice and tips on the matter, we reached out to our friend and authority on intelligence security, Jennifer Richmond. (Please don't log off in panic before reading what's next!) 

For the average person who owns a “free” email account, participates in online social media, and uses services such as online banking, how safe is the security of their personal data?

There are many steps an individual can take to secure their personal data online, however, if a dedicated hacker targets you, any online activity is at peril.  Recently, we have seen a rise in "internet terrorism."  The biggest targets are large multi-national companies and federal and state institutions. When these organizations are targeted, so are the individuals within the organization who are perceived as contributing to the "problem." The hacker often defines the problem, like corporate greed and state brutality, for example.

The average person still needs to be concerned. Hackers are increasingly creative and viruses are ubiquitous. Viruses can even be "attached" to websites; simply clicking on a "dirty" website can install the virus on the unsuspecting individual.

Many people do not want to sacrifice convenience for safety, because it often requires tedious applications and protocols that may slow down a person's Internet habits. For example, changing passwords every month for all accounts, using a VPN, not setting up automatic payments, putting a "file vault" on your computer, ceasing to shop online and only using a credit car when mandatory. (You can cancel a credit card, but if you use a debit card and your cash is wiped out, when automatic payments come get the picture).

How do you think the public currently perceives that safety? (Are people blind to the fact that a “free” Facebook account is actually paid for by the selling of our information?)

Yes, many of us are blind to the necessary safety protocols. We think we will never become a target. The Internet is criminal territory and although some are more likely to be targeted, everyone needs to consider their safety. Would you walk down a dark alley at midnight in a rough part of town? You can be mugged on the Internet easier than being mugged on the street. 

Although many of the social media sites aim to protect user identities, they can also be the victim of an attack, exposing the personal details of many. The key here is to make sure you always keep up with the privacy updates and to make sure your online presence only reveals the most minimal of personal data as possible. Safety doesn't mean dismissing all Internet habits, although that is the only way to really ensure it entirely; but it does mean that we all need to be more vigilant.

How important is the education of information security and what are things we can do right now to better protect ourselves?

Information security is something that will be necessary for us to continue to prosper and thrive in an Internet era. Furthermore, our learning must continuously evolve with changing technologies. Hackers evolve and so must we. The NSA and other organizations give tips on how we can protect our home networks, and it is smart to have a security consultant come in to educate employees on both their work and their home networks (especially if they are using the same computer in both places).

One last thing…

I remember when I was young, long before the Internet; my mother told me to never write something down that you don't want other people to see. Sage advice. Unfortunately, with the ease of sharing information on the Internet, it seems all but forgotten. And ironically, it is more important now than ever. What is put on the Internet lives on forever. It can't be shredded or burned like that embarrassing old love letter.

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