|Did you hear about the thief who recently stole a woman's laptop, her iPhone, Nintendo DS, as well as her handbag with cash and credit cards... from her home? To add insult to injury, the burglar logged onto the woman's Facebook account and taunted her with messages such as "on my new laptop" and "I have the laptop, phone's OK, a little scratched up but it'll do, TV was rubbish so I left it, DS was a bonus" -- can you believe the gall of this guy?
The woman was undeserving of the crime, and certainly the public harassment, but could she have done something to prevent the latter? Absolutely.
Do you password protect your home computer? Do you store your passwords on your computer? Do you use the same passwords and usernames for all your accounts -- from social networking sites to online banking and credit card accounts?
Here are a few simple measures you, your family, friends and coworkers can take to help prevent having your own personal story like the one above:
THE PRIVACY PROFESSOR'S TIP OF THE MONTH
Do not rely on electronic tools to manage all your passwords. Software designed for such a purpose is not always reliable. Worse? Storing your personal identifiers in a file that's easily found on your computer could open up your entire world for a tech-savvy criminal. Also think hard about the option to "remember username and password" when an application gives you this option.
With increasing sensitivity of information should come increasing complexity of your passwords. This means a simple password might be okay for sites on which you're just perusing material... but for online banking, your password should be a complex amalgamation of letters and numbers that do not necessarily equate to anything in your life -- certainly not your social security numbers or key dates. You should not use the same passwords for all of your online sites and applications; it's worth repeating that the more sensitive your information on the site is, the more complex the password should be.
Finally, layer your levels of security on your home computers like you do at work. Use a boot-up password and a logon password. Logoff and shut down your computer when you are not using it. (Hey, it also saves energy and is better on your computer!) And consider keeping an old-fashioned written list of IDs and passwords, that are essential to your family and significant others, in a small address book or similar record that is kept securely locked away, but where others who may need it can get to it if necessary when you're not around. Even the shrewdest brain can forget a password from time to time, so you can also use it as a quick reference; don't write your passwords on sticky notes and attach to your computer screen as your memory jogger!
Take multiple, simple steps to protect your own privacy. Don't let some crook use information easily obtained from your computer or home to publicly humiliate you... or worse.
Talk to you next month.
The Privacy Professor