A ‘Whac-A-Mole’ Approach to Preventing Identity Theft
Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert
Computerworld illustrates the current state of information security by citing a childhood arcade game: “If you’ve ever played the silly, maddening game known as “Whac-A-Mole,” you know what futility feels like. As you smack one mole with the mallet, up pops another one. Their speed and number escalates as you flail away, trying to keep up. At some point, you realize there’s no hope of winning.” That’s why I hated that game. I was attracted to it at first, because, like Barney Rubbles’ son Bam Bam, I liked hitting stuff with blunt instruments. But that only takes you so far. To win, you need skill and precision.
In today’s world of cyber security and identity theft prevention, it isn’t enough to chase the next mole and whack it with another patch, or shred your own data and hope that someone doesn’t hack your cell phone company. You need to understand the problem and proactively implement a solution.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, hackers hacked for challenge, fun, and fame. It made them popular among other hackers. Soon after, consumers began spending more time online. They used their PCs to shop, bank, and manage personal affairs. Now, hackers aren’t just wreaking havoc, deleting files, or making IT administrators miserable, they’re also stealing proprietary data. Now, the real game is illegal financial gain. Hackers’ motivations have changed, which means that you need to change your perceptions of what a computer is, and how to operate it. It’s no longer something to just play Solitaire, or a play where you socialize with friends. Now, it’s a cash register to a hacker. It’s a bank. And it should be treated and respected like a vault.
- Run Windows Update, or it may also be labeled “Microsoft Update,” on your PC. If you have Windows XP, you want “Service Pack 3” installed. You can also go to “Control Panel” and then “Security Center” and turn on automatic updates, so Microsoft will install the latest security upgrades automatically. If you have Vista, the process is similar, but you want “Service Pack 1.”
- Install antivirus software. Most PCs come bundled with software that runs for free for up to a year. Once it expires, you need to renew the license. If you don’t, every day that your software isn’t updated provides more opportunity for criminal hackers to turn your PC into a zombie that sends viruses to other PCs or sends spam shilling Viagra.
- Install anti-spyware software. Most antivirus providers define spyware as a virus now. However, it’s still best to run a spyware removal program once a month or so, to ensure that your PC is rid of software that could allow a criminal hacker to remotely monitor your data, keystrokes, and the websites you visit.
- Use Firefox. Internet Explorer is clunky, and the most frequently hacked software that exists. Mozilla’s Firefox is more secure.
- Secure your wireless. If you’re running an unsecured wireless connection at your home or office, anyone can jump on the network and access your files from up to 500 feet away. Your router should have instructions on how to set up WEP or WPA security. WPA is better. If this is a foreign language to you, you should either hire someone, or ask your 15 year old for help.
- Install a firewall. Microsoft’s operating system comes with a built-in firewall, but it isn’t especially secure. Go with a third party firewall that comes prepackaged with antivirus software.
- Get a credit freeze. Go to ConsumersUnion.org and follow the steps for your particular state. This is an absolutely necessary tool to secure your credit. In most cases, it prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. This makes your Social Security number useless to a potential identity thief.
- Invest in Intelius Identity Theft Protection and Prevention. While not all forms of identity theft can be prevented, you can effectively manage your personal identifying information by knowing what’s buzzing out there in regards to YOU.
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Robert Siciliano, identity theft speaker, discusses criminal hackers targeting wireless devices on Fox News.