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Cyber-threats are everywhere

March 6, 2012

Cyber-threats are everywhere
Your home should be your family’s sanctuary and refuge, the place where they feel safe and protected. While you might feel secure at home communicating over the internet to friends and family, this communication can expose you and your family to privacy violations and identity fraud. Even the most benign postings may be seen by the wrong people; fortunately there are some steps you can take to increase your protection.

First, recognize the internet for what it is, rather than what you might like it to be: a permanent bulletin board accessible by anyone. Accordingly, give careful consideration to what information is posted, especially on social networking sites that are simply public sites with some incidental and optional privacy controls. Should the vacation photos be posted on Facebook while you are still away, broadcasting your absence from home? Better to wait until you return before posting. And how much about your lifestyle do you really want to reveal on Facebook? Users of Facebook should enable the privacy controls that restrict photographs and other identifying information to all but Facebook “friends.” Users should regularly monitor their list of approved “friends” and remove those who may no longer merit access.

Photographs and videos taken with smartphones and some digital cameras and then uploaded to the web may contain the exact location where the photo was taken. This data, called Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF), and more commonly referred to as “geotagging” describes the precise Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates where a photo was taken. Sites such as Facebook, Twitpic and Yfrog generally remove the EXIF file from an upload but others like Picasa, Flickr and Photobucket often allow access to some of the original files that may include the GPS coordinates. That adorable picture of your family inside your well-appointed home which you assumed was untraceable could be anything but. There are many other places where people upload photos such as blogs, bulletin boards and even e-mails: all can create potential exposure. The chillingly-named website www.icanstalku.com offers advice on how to disable the geotag function on smartphones.

Other means of protection
Corporate security breaches which potentially expose the confidential data of credit card customers happen frequently. Starting from a monthly fee of about $15 you can subscribe to a credit monitoring service from one of the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, Transunion and Equifax. These services check your credit reports each day and will notify you by e-mail when key changes are detected. There are other vendors that offer similar services, but you are then providing sensitive information such as your social security number, address and date of birth, to an unknown third party. An inexpensive alternative is a security freeze or credit freeze, which costs as little as $20 or is even free depending on the state where you live.

A “freeze” means that no companies other than the ones you already have an account with can look at your credit reports. You can freeze your credit directly on the credit-reporting agency’s website and authorize temporary “thaws” if someone needs access to your credit information.

Cellphone and tablet security
“Phone hacking” – listening in on other people’s calls – is generally illegal without court approval, but that won’t stop illicit mobile phone hackers from causing plenty of trouble. The computer security firm McAfee has just introduced a service for consumers to simultaneously protect their smartphone, tablet devices and computers. A start-up company called Lookout – www.mylookout.com raised over $76 million last year and has partnered with Tmobile, Verizon and Sprint to provide mobile security protection for smartphones. It has a free version which is upgradeable for $3 per month to let Android, Blackberry and Windows phone users avoid downloading malware and can scan applications for privacy intrusions. It also backs up data and can locate and delete information from lost devices.

Online data vaults and clouds
There is much interest in using an online data vault that can store data relating to financial records, passwords, medical information, wills and trusts and other family information. For an opinion on “cloud” storage and data vaults we consulted Donald Ackerman, Vice President at Risk Control Strategies in New York. Mr. Ackerman’s response was: “True data security is best based upon control of the facility or device that houses the data. That being said, I have never been a big fan of keeping your closest secrets offsite at a company whose only promise of security is what you see on their webpage. People are too trusting of these companies, in my opinion. The best way to keep your data secure and controlled is to keep it on an external device in an encrypted format and then take that device and lock it in a secured location that is under your control or in a secured facility like a bank.” That sounds like good advice.

Chartwell Bulletins are produced by Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc., an independent insurance broker specializing in the personal asset protection of high net worth individuals.  Chartwell Bulletins address issues of general interest and since coverages vary by comany and by state should not be taken as an interpretation of  particular policy or advice on any individual situation.  Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. is not affiliated with Risk Control Strategies or Lookout Mobile Security and does not accept compensation for referrals to them.  

A representative of Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. will be pleased to discuss all aspects of your personal insurance.  Contact: Rebecca Korach Woan | 312. 645.1200 | rwoan@chartwellins.com