Securing Your E-life 

On October 11, 2012 Leon Panetta, the United States Defense Secretary delivered a speech to the Business Executives for National Security in which he warned the United States of the dangers we are facing in cyberspace. Although his speech mostly addressed large utility companies and banking institutions, his concern shows how our effortlessly run country can be sent into chaos not by physical war but by cyber warfare. Fortunately, the United States is taking extreme measures in order to protect our daily lives from a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” as Mr. Panetta stated, however there are steps that we can individually take in order to prevent chaos in our microcosms.

How often to do you check your bank accounts online? In an effort to “be green,” how many bills do you pay online? Do you even second guess your browsing history, the sites you frequent, the programs and documents you download? You are not alone. The majority of us are spoiled with the speed of electronic banking, bill paying, online shopping and online communication that it has become as innate as our most basic motor skills.

Unfortunately, predators take advantage of our comfort level and can easily access our personal information from the comfort of their own home, without our knowledge. Fortunately however, there are small steps that we can all take to make cyber identify theft harder to accomplish.

According to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, the following steps will help to keep you safe:

1. Beef Up Your Security: Personal firewalls and security software packages are a must-have for those of you who engage in online financial transactions. Make sure that these packages include anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features. Also, make sure that you access your online brokerage account only on a secure web page using encryption. The website address of a SECURE website connection starts with “https” as opposed to just “http” and has a key or closed padlock in the status bar which typically appears in the lower right-hand corner of your screen.

Sometimes however, even if a web page starts with “https” and contains a key or closed padlock, the page can be insecure. Some phishers make spoofed websites which appear to have padlocks. To double-check, click on the padlock icon on the status bar to see the security certificate for the site. Following the “Issued to” in the pop-up window you should see the name matching the site you think you are on. If the names are different, the website is probably a fake.

2. Be Careful What You Download: When you download a program or file from an unknown source, you risk loading malicious software programs on your computer. Fraudsters often hide these programs within applications such as “free” games and gadgets.

3. Use Your Own Computer If You Can: It’s generally safer to access your online brokerage account from your own computer than from other computers. If you need to use a computer other than your own, you won’t know if it contains viruses or spyware. If you do use another computer, be sure to delete all of your “Temporary Internet Files” and clear all of your “History” after you log off your account.

4. Don’t Respond to E-mails Requesting Personal Information:  Legitimate entities will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive information through a non-secure means, such as e-mail. If you have reason to believe that your financial institution actually does need personal information from you, call them yourself, using the number you have or have looked up on their website, not the number from the e-mail.

Even though a web address in an e-mail may look legitimate, fraudsters can mask the true destination. Rather than merely clicking on the link provided in the e-mail, type the web address into your browser yourself.

5. Be Smart About Your Password:  The best passwords are the ones that are difficult to guess. Try using a password that consists of a combination of numbers, letters (both upper case and lower case), punctuation and special characters. You should change your password regularly and use different passwords for each of your accounts. Also, do not store these passwords on your computer. Write them down and keep them in a secure location.

6.  Use Extra Caution with Wireless Connections:  Wireless networks may not provide as much security as wired Internet connections. In fact, many “hotspots” (wireless networks in public areas like airports, hotels and restaurants) reduce their security so it’s easier for individuals to access and use these wireless networks. It is recommended that financial information not be accessed from a wireless connection.

7.  Log Out Completely: Closing or minimizing your browser or typing in a new web address when you’re done using your online account may not be enough to prevent others from gaining access. Instead, click on the “log out” button to terminate your online session. In addition, you shouldn’t permit your browser to “remember” your username and password information. If this browser feature is active, anyone using your computer will have access to your brokerage account information.

With the Holidays quickly approaching, online shopping can be one of the most convenient ways to shop sales, send gifts to loved ones living out of town, or beat the holiday crowds. With almost, if not every website offering online shopping, security is of huge concern. A 2008 survey conducted by Pew Internet found that 75% of American online shoppers’ greatest concern was in sending credit card and personal information over the Internet. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse developed 23 tips and facts to keep in mind and utilize while online shopping. Please click the link below to find out more information regarding online shopping security and safety.

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