Our personal information has never been so easy to steal, and guess what? In large part, we can blame ourselves.
How is that possible? Businesses and consumers have long been warned about distributing sensitive information as email attachments, and yet many companies still send out credit card forms and signature details. Medical offices frequently use email for their patient communication. People routinely accept and return emails with attachments that contain everything from their financial balances to their medical histories. After all, the message is directed only to the recipient, so what could go wrong?
Emails are particularly vulnerable to cyber theft.
That’s because they’re stored in a variety of places, including the sender’s and receiver’s device. If someone hacks into your computer, your email is just sitting there, readily available for them to access. Rifling through email is now the most common process for today’s pervasive malicious software attacks. Other points of possible entry include your Internet Service Provider and that of the sender or recipient. If your email is hosted on a cloud-based service provider like Gmail, then it, too, is subject to attack. There are also network connections between these email providers. How could you possibly know if all of those connections are secure? And that’s not the only places where a copy of your email might be stored. Each email service provider archives messages on its own servers, which can be hacked and downloaded by cyber thieves. The bottom line: once an email message leaves your server or the sender’s server, it’s out of your control.
So what steps can you take to protect your personal information?
- Never send sensitive information in an email or attachment. This is the cardinal rule of cyber safety. Avoid including Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, sensitive tax or investment account information, and dates of birth in your messages, even to people you trust.
- Use safer methods of communication. If you must share personal information, there are a variety of much safer ways to go about it. ShareFile, PeerLink, Box, FileCloud and DropBox, for example, are file sharing and data transfer programs that offer robust security features. Or you could encrypt your email messages using programs like Infoencrypt or SafeGmail. The messages are encrypted at the sender’s computer and decrypted within the recipient’s browser, and they remain encrypted in both the sender’s and receiver’s email boxes. Hackers who gain access to your computer or to the service providers’ servers come away with nothing but unreadable gibberish.
- Make your old computers' hard drives unreadable. Loads of personal information can be gleaned through old computing devices, but you can protect your personal data by making hard drives unreadable before disposing of them. After you back up your data and transfer the files elsewhere, always sanitize by disk shredding, magnetically cleaning the disk, or using software to wipe the disk clean.
- Don't use the same password for more than one account or service. If a hacker cracks your password on one website, they’ve now got your password for every account you have.
- Always turn off your computer. When you're finished using your computer or laptop, power it off. Leaving computing devices on and connected to the Internet opens the door for rogue attacks. It gives scammers round-the-clock access to install malware and commit various cybercrimes.
While protecting yourself from data breaches and cybercrime can be a hassle, it’s far less troublesome and time-consuming than dealing with identity theft or having your personal information floating around the Dark Web.
Do you want to learn more about how to keep your valuable personal data safe and secure? Our friendly, knowledgeable advisors are here to help you find the resources you need. Please contact us anytime.
About FAI Wealth Management, Inc.: Located in Columbia, Maryland, FAI focuses on helping clients create the financial future they desire by protecting their wealth, making the most of their assets, and planning for life's uncertainties. The firm combines fee-only, fiduciary-driven guidance with highly personalized, consultative financial planning and investment services that enable individuals, families, and businesses to navigate complex life transitions. Founded in 1987, FAI currently manages more than $350 million in client assets nationwide. For more information about FAI Wealth Management, please visit the website at https://www.faiwealth.com or call 410.715.9200.