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Be Careful What You Click

Top 5 information privacy risks for 2014 and what to do about them.

By Robert Henry, Santa Clara University’s Chief Information Security Officer

This is the hit parade of threats to your personal information in the coming year. Most can be avoided by setting a long password, keeping your computer (that includes your phone!) up-to-date, and not opening SPAM or browsing to suspicious web sites.

1. Smartphones

Many people have sensitive information on their smartphone or have used their smartphones to access sensitive information like their bank accounts. A lost or stolen smartphone can give the bad guys the keys to your information.

What to do about it:

Set a password on your smartphone. Set a maximum number of failed attempts to access the phone after which the phone deletes all the data.

2. Third Party Apps

Some third party applications ask for access to your email, contacts, even Google Drive. The application presents the offer as an easy way to expand your social network or share your information. The third party app, in return, has access to details about you that you might not want to share.

What to do about it:

Consider carefully what you allow third party applications to know about you before you share your information.

3. Unpatched Software

Unpatched software can open up opportunities for bad guys to install malware on your computer and steal your information.

What to do about it:

Update your software. Turn on automatic updates if that option is available.

4. Ransomware

An especially nasty form of malware, ransomware modifies your computer and then offer you a way to pay the bad guy to remove it. One type encrypts the data on your computer so it is inaccessible unless you pay. Another type takes over your computer’s operating system and makes the computer unusable.

What to do about it:

Install antivirus software and keep it up to date. Update your operating system and software. Keep your firewall turned on.

5. Phishing

Email that asks you for your user name, password, credit card number, or other sensitive information is designed to steal your identity. Sometimes phishing email looks very legitimate and carries the name and branding of known organizations. Bad spelling, bad grammar, and threats within the message can tip you off to phishing.

What to do about it:

When in doubt, don’t click! If the email looks suspicious, it probably is. Legitimate organizations will never ask for your user name, password, credit card, of social security number in an email.

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