The Best Data Protection Advice You’re Not Taking – Part 1


dave_h_colourBy David Hone, Security Specialist, Netutils

Views expressed in this post are original thoughts posted by David Hone. These views are his own and in no way do they represent the views of the company.

Some mind boggling stats for you.

There’s a lot of data out there being created and shared and in amongst all that data are huge volumes of valuable personal and corporate information. By valuable I mean hackers want to nick it, sell it and exploit it.

Let’s take a second to think about the widespread proliferation of our personal data. Consider this. In the past the typical household bill cycle would start by a gas/electric representative knocking at the door to read the meters, 2 weeks later a bill would arrive directly from the supplier on the doorstep, typically that bill would be paid with a cheque in the post direct to the supplier or in cash at the local post office, both methods being secure in so far as a very limited amount of personal data was collected, processed or stored.

Roll forward to today’s Software as a Service (SaaS) dominated world and we have a very different picture. No-longer are our meters read by official employees of the gas or electric companies. Most likely the person reading the meter is subcontracted and employed by a different company. This instantly means a certain amount of your data is already being shared and these organisations are likely to have your account reference, house number, address and postcode. While this may appear a trivial amount of data it’s probably enough for someone to match this up with the electoral role to acquire your household name in order to request a copy of your electricity bill. Armed with a copy of your bill they could easily apply for some instant shop credit in your name. Scary stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there. The gas/electric company want to save money by making you read your meters directly for them and by paying your bills directly online. So they commission a company to design, build and manage a site to aid this process. You are then encouraged / forced to use the new service and more importantly are required to identify yourself and signup to the process, in doing so your personal data has the potential of being exposed in a myriad of different ways:

  • Direct breaches of data by the employees of the companies involved in managing the online platform.
  • Without the right level of anti-virus, anti-malware and phishing awareness protection your personal data could be stolen at source when you sign-up for the SaaS without the gas/electric company knowing or even caring!
  • Call centres and data centres reside offshore, in places which likely do not have the same personal data protection regulations in place or enforced as we have here in the UK

So with the new age of SaaS we can clearly see that we, as individuals, can quickly lose control of our personal data and the possibilities of this data being leaked, lost or duplicated and then used for financial gain starts to become infinite. Multiply this by the number of SaaS platforms that you are compelled to subscribe to and use and you can quickly see that the potential for your personal data being leaked, lost or abused is extremely high.

Worried yet? Then think how easy it is for your personal information to end up in the wrong hands. For example simply typing the wrong email address could result in your email being sent to a number of unintended recipients across the world. If a cybercriminal setup a domain such as “HSCB” the chances are they could easily capture a certain amount of traffic intended for HSBC, such correspondence are likely to contain information cybercriminals would otherwise not know.

Here’s 4 simple tips to help protect your personal data both at home and in the office:

  1. Two (or more) steps are better than one

Protecting your data with just a password? Stop! The danger here is that a single password can easily be guessed. Most secure systems deploy 2 factor authentication. This involves a password that only you/ your employees should know and a token element that typically changes with time. The other weak area of any of these systems is the mechanism linked to single sign on and the use of the same email address with these single sign on systems. Single sign-on typically allows you to use one account (for example your Facebook account) to login to other services such as Amazon. The weak link being the interception of a live session for any of these services, this allows the hacker to change the account email address by spoofing the live session. Having changed the email address the hacker simply requests a password reset which is then sent to the new email address provided by the hacker, from this point onwards the hacker has complete control of all your accounts and personal data all linked to the same single sign-on information. Don’t link social media sign-on details with confidential services like online banking. Also consider keeping services separate by having a number of different email addresses linked to these services that are only used in isolation, for example myname-mytax@{yourdomain.com}, or myname-goingout@{mydomain.com}, by doing this you are limiting the damage that can be caused should any one service be compromised. Finally (and many of us are guilty of doing this) never use the same password for all services; this I know is difficult to do and remembering all the usernames/passwords can be a real challenge, so read on….

  1. One size should not fit all

It’s frustrating when you can’t remember your passwords. Let’s face it life is busy enough. However there are a number of solutions out there that can help. Most of these solutions take the pain out of trying to invent new passwords and then trying to remember them at a later date. Typically these systems store all your passwords in one centrally managed place. However there are some security issues with this you should be aware of. Maybe you’ve lost your device for example, and this contains all your passwords. You can protect against this by using the device’s own password access systems before the key password application can be accessed. What you are buying here is time to react and the ability to generate longer random password seeds that should be harder to crack, difficult to remember but easy to manage and use. Check out http://lifehacker.com/tag/password-managers for ideas.

  1. Clean up after yourself

You know that website you used to make a random purchase? They made you sign up for an account right? Delete it! You have no idea what these companies are doing with your data or how well they are protecting it. I refer to my point above on SaaS. With the proliferation of SaaS, we as individuals can quickly lose control of our personal data and the possibilities of this data being leaked, lost or duplicated and then used for financial gain starts to become infinite. Delete those dormant accounts.

  1. Run and hide (well not literally, you’ll see what I mean below)

So why did Facebook recently purchase WhatsApp? Our data, what we do, where we go, what we purchase, when we purchase it, what groups we belong too and our buying power is all information with a commercial value. By signing up and agreeing to use certain services we are agreeing to allow these companies to own our data. In some instances access our photos and know our locations. Is this really information you want corporations to have about you? Consider this; you don’t have to fill in your real name and address when signing up for these services, or you could encrypt the data you sign up with. One solution that can hide our surfing habits is a solution called TOR from the TOR-Project .The browser bundle provides a clean browser (i.e. free of any tracking cookies and plugins) that connects by way of a VPN connected network of global hosts, your traffic is routed through the global hosts and exits at different places at different times, thereby obscuring and masking who you are, where you are and what you are visiting.

Keep an eye out for part 2 of our blogging series on the ‘best data protection advice you’re not taking’ which will provide you with hints and tips on educating your employees on the dangers of phishing attacks.

 

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , by Vanessa Cardwell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Vanessa Cardwell

I'm a marketing communications professional working within the technology industry for a great reseller called Network Utilities. Network Utilities (Systems) Ltd have been providing identity centric network and security solutions to organisations ranging from Telecoms and ISPs to large corporates and SMEs for over twenty years. Partnering closely with both industry leading and niche technology vendors to bring customers the best solutions the industry has to offer. I communicate every day with our customers & prospects to keep them up to date on the latest industry news and information on the products and solutions from our portfolio and I'm motivated by any new marketing techniques and methods we can use to do this. There's lots of great content posted regularly on our blog to help organisations like yours find the right IT security solution for you and your business. You can stay up to date by: • Following us on twitter @networkutils • Visiting our website www.netutils.com • Following our blog https://netutilsblog.com/

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