Computer experts have long known that poor digital security can result in identity theft, credit card fraud, and a number of other crimes. The news that a person or organization needs to make changes to the way computer security is handled isn’t always met with a good reception, however.
While these experts offer good quality advice, many people simply aren’t interested in taking it. Here’s a look at some of the things technology experts say that individuals and companies should do to protect their information, plus a little of the backlash they experience for giving that advice.
Individual users who protect their computers with anti-malware programs are about 50 percent less likely to suffer from identity or credit card theft. The protective effect is greatest for people who are running anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-malware programs on their PCs, with protection levels falling for people who ran only one or two of these programs, according to criminologists at Michigan State University.
About 15 percent of the people in this study had experienced identity theft related to computer security in the year before the survey. Protective programs aren’t just for individual users, either. Small businesses and organizations put their information at risk if they don’t bother to install protective software on every computer.
Safe Online Behavior
Downloading movies and music comes with a risk of being sued for copyright, but it could also expose a person’s private information to unscrupulous users. In the MSU study, people who were more likely to download pornographic images or pirated material also had a much higher risk of identity theft. This is because the “deviant sites” that host this material are more likely to carry malicious software. By avoiding these practices, users can protect themselves.
Examining “Convenience” Measures
The same programs and features that make logging into websites and performing other simple actions much easier could also be dangerous to user identities. In 2010, for instance, a group of computer experts exposed a flaw in the AT&T website. Originally designed to make it easier to log into the site via the iPad, this problem also made it easy to get the email addresses of AT&T site users.
Both large companies and individual users should take a hard look at the convenience features they use to ensure that they’re not risking valuable information. Individuals who are concerned about this problem can avoid using these convenience features or install script blockers and similar protective browser add-ons.
Computer professionals who point out these basic facts don’t always get a warm reception. In the AT&T case, the independent expert group that pointed out the iPad login flaw were actually accused of criminal behavior. The Federal Bureau of Investigation even opened its own case on the incident, while AT&T accused the group of maliciously hacking and exploiting their site. While disclosing vulnerabilities is standard practice in the computer industry, the people responsible for the vulnerabilities don’t always take it well.
This holds true for individuals, too. Private users who are told that they’re putting their information at risk by refusing to run anti-malware programs are often resistant to the extra cost or inconvenience of this software. That’s despite the strong evidence that loss of personal data could cost them a lot more. The embarrassment of having done something wrong is often strong enough that people, whether they’re personal users or representatives of a corporation, blame the messenger.
Listening to technology experts on the subject of security is still a smart choice, however. By taking a few simple precautions, businesses, organizations and private citizens can all help protect personal information and reduce the risk of identity theft and financial loss.