Data breaches are in the news, and the news is not good.
There’s the breaking story of Capital One’s massive security disaster, in which the data of more than 100 million applicants for credit cards was exposed. At the same time, credit monitoring firm Equifax is in the midst of settling a class action lawsuit over a lapse that affected 147 million people across the United States.
So for those of us who try to keep our personal information personal, our private data private, what’s the best option? How do we protect ourselves?
The unfortunate truth is that in a connected world, 100 percent security isn’t possible. We expect the convenience of being able to bank and shop online. We want to carry debit and credit cards. We expect car loans and mortgages to be available through online portals.
Doing any of these things exposes our data to the security vulnerabilities of the online world.
There are basic things that can be done. You should investigate online password lockers, such as OnePassword, that auto-generate passwords for multiple sites and keep them in a single, highly secure location. This prevents re-use of one or two passwords, which can increase your vulnerability online.
You should have some sort of credit monitoring activated. This allows you to know if someone else opens an account in your name. Credit Karma, which can be found online, offers this service for free, although there are other options as well.
If you bank online, make sure to periodically review your transactions. Do you recognize the merchants and the amounts paid? If not, you can follow up with your financial institution or the merchants in question
These are the first steps. You have many other options, and companies that will be eager to sell security “solutions.” But the single most important quality of a consumer in this connected age is simply awareness. You need to know what accounts have been opened in your name and how much you’re spending and where. That allows you to recognize if anyone attempts to take advantage of you.
Another positive: Your financial institution and merchants are going to be aware, too. They know about the toll of identity theft and security breaches. They understand the steps to take, and they have been taken to account in the past.
So while the news about data breaches might not be good, there’s no reason your own story needs to have an unhappy ending.