System hacks. Stolen transaction data. Data breaches. Identity theft. If you own a small business, those words are enough to start your heart racing. You wonder how something like this could happen when:
- You only have a small business that’s not big enough to get noticed online.
- You’ve done everything you can to protect yourself.
Even individuals get nervous when they hear of identity theft stories which, by the way, are rising in the past few years.
The Internet and ID theft
The Internet has made data theft a big business. As a matter of fact, the cost of all data theft in 2017 amounted to $17 billion. According to Javelin Strategy, victims in the US alone numbered to more than 16 million people, and more than 30% of these data breaches resulted in identity theft. Also, who can forget about Yahoo’s data breach in 2013?
— Statista (@StatistaCharts) October 9, 2017
The reality is that no one is immune to hacks and data breaches. While recent financial industry changes have been implemented—like EMV (chip cards) and reduced card-cloning in ATMs, retail stores, and restaurants—identity theft is still on the rise because of the Internet and the lack of protection for most people (more on this later). If you have an online presence (who doesn’t, these days?), fraud can happen almost anywhere during a transaction—credit card fraud, tax-related fraud, phone fraud, and bank fraud.
The worst case with ID theft
Your worst nightmare? For businesses, it’s the negative press from a data breach and the cost of customer notification, plus putting your customers and yourself at risk for identity theft. Think about Yahoo (which we cited earlier) and the most recent Facebook data breach which affected more or less 50 million people. Twitter also did not escape data breach as it revealed that around 250,000 login details—usernames, passwords, and email addresses—were stolen.
Such instances are scary, but what’s even more frightening is the effect of these data breaches on individuals. You probably heard of regular people whose identities were used by another person in purchasing items, getting married, or even in giving birth.
It looks like even children are not exempted! One in ten children gets their identities stolen, mostly by hackers who were able to get into their home networks. Then when these children have grown up and start applying for credit cards, that’s when they start discovering their identities being stolen.
Fraud prevention tactics
Identity thieves can rummage through thrown out and unshredded papers, and find personal information they can use. They can also casually take out your mails from your mailbox, and get your personal information there. Identity theft is very easy to do, especially to seasoned hackers, as shown in this old but still very true news report:
As you can see, it takes only minutes for thieves to use your personal and financial information. However, for victims of identity theft, it may take months or even years to correct not only their records but also their reputation that has been damaged by ID thieves. Therefore, the cliché “Prevention is better than cure” is more real when it comes to frauds and identity theft.
Identity theft prevention for small business
Data breach prevention is critical to small business since they are mostly the target of cyber criminals. This doesn’t have to cost millions and must be one of the top priorities of businesses. Watch the video below for tips on how to implement data breach prevention tactics:
Essentially, these are just some low-cost but important steps you can take:
- Encrypt all your data and communication by using a VPN. With a VPN, employees can connect to their work computers remotely in a secure manner without fear that somebody might intercept the data they are requesting.
- Separate your personal accounts from business ones. This will limit your exposure if someone steals the business account information.
- Secure your technology infrastructure. Invest in antivirus software (here are our suggestions for Mac), anti-malware, anti-spyware, and a firewall.
- Backup your data regularly.
- Create a password policy that requires changes every 60-90 days.
- Invest in security training for your employees so that they understand current trends.
- Consider cyber liability insurance that will cover the cost of fines, fees, and customer notification if the worst should happen.
Being small isn’t a “hall pass” from protecting nonpublic, personal information. Your customers are counting on you. All our identities, and millions of dollars, are at stake.
Identity theft prevention for individuals
Ultimately, it’s the customers/individual users who will suffer the consequences of data breaches. This includes stolen identities, thousands of credit card and bank debts under their names, altered medical records, and more still. Thus, individuals must be responsible with protecting their personal data.
Currently, the best solution is the use of VPNs or Virtual Private Networks. VPNs create an encrypted tunnel which all your data passes through. This way, your ISP, the government, and identity thieves cannot see any of your online activities.
Other than the use of a VPN, here are some of the things you can also do to protect your identity on the Internet:
- HTTPS over HTTP: When transacting online, always make sure that the website uses HTTPS, not only when redirecting you to a payment method but also right from the start. To be safe, use HTTPS Everywhere, a browser extension that forces websites to always display their HTTPS version when available.
HTTP vs HTTPS pic.twitter.com/nlpjBSqW6I
— mehedi (@mehedih_) February 15, 2018
- Use a secure browser: Choose a browser that has URL filtering, download protection, and the ability to disable trackers. Firefox and Chrome come to mind as they are two of the most popular browsers right now, but there are also other browsers that are browsers built specifically for anonymity.
- Use different passwords for different accounts: At this point, you know the importance of a strong password—one that doesn’t have your last name and year of birth. Once you come up with a strong password, it’s way easier to use it for your email, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tinder, and online banking account. Then you might realize that you only need to come up and memorize one password for all accounts. Easy, right? Wrong. Using one password for all your accounts is also an easy way for hackers to get your personal information. When they gain access to one of your accounts, they will have access to everything else. Instead, use a password manager.
— Tinker FCU (@TinkerFCU) February 8, 2019
- Don’t share too much: Your friends on social media don’t need to know your exact birthday or your mother’s maiden name (information frequently asked by sites to verify your financial accounts). Be mindful of what you share on social media, and check your profile settings to make sure that what you’re sharing can only be seen by the right people.
We could go on and on about tips in protecting your identity while browsing the Internet, but it all boils down to protecting all entry points—browsers, applications, online purchases, etc. The best one-size-fits-all solution right now is a VPN. It protects your device so that everything you do on it is protected. Even better, you can install a VPN on your router so that all devices that connect to your network is secured.