Identify theft happens when your personal information is stolen by one or more cyber criminals then used to impersonate you. More often than not this is done to gain access to your credit card data, bank accounts, and social networks to steal money from you. Along the way thieves may also harvest other data from your accounts to gain access to sensitive information belonging to close friends, family, and colleagues. In some cases, the criminals might use private messages they obtain from your emails and social networks to embarrass you publicly and damage your reputation.
Yes, the Internet can be a dangerous place, but there is a lot you can do to protect yourself from possible identity theft and other web threats. There are four major components to identity theft protection that I’ll discuss in this article:
Managing Your Account Passwords
Theft of your identity can begin with obtaining your email address, which can be done fairly easily using Google searches and one of the many email look up services that can be found on the Internet. For many of your online accounts your email address is also your user name. With just that information, a cybercriminal has only to guess your passwords to get into your accounts.
To combat password cracking, you should use a different password for each of your accounts and these passwords should be hard to guess. I recommend using passwords that are at least 10 characters in length and include a mixture of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and special characters. By “special” characters I mean any of those that you get when you hold down the SHIFT key and press any number. Note that, depending on the account, you may be limited on the length of your password or may not be able to use special characters.
If you have many Internet-based accounts, it may become impossible to remember all your passwords if you have different one for each account. You can manage your passwords with Trend Micro DirectPass ™, which enables you to store any number of passwords for your laptop computer or mobile smartphone then use them to login into your accounts without having to remember the password for each account. All you have to do is remember the password to your DirectPass account. DirectPass will also help you identify easy to guess passwords you may have in your list and help you select stronger ones.
Recognizing and Handling Phishing Email
Armed with your email address(es) cyber criminals can also send you phishing emails designed to lure you to malicious websites with URLs that are contained in messages carefully disguised to look like they came from legitimate institutions. Once you arrive at these sites you can be maneuvered into entering personal information or immediately pick up malware that compromises your system.
There is a viable low-tech solution to this problem. Simply don’t click on any link in an email sent you. If you receive a link in an email that claims to come from a company with whom you have an account, send a separate email to the company in question to verify the authenticity of the original email.
Avoiding Bad Websites and Blocking Web Threats
By itself though, personal discipline is not enough. You need security software to help keep you away from malicious websites and block web threats that may try to attack your computer.
Trend Micro Titanium ™ has a rich set of tools for protecting you from web threats. In my last blog on controlling your kids’ access to the Internet, I showed you this Titanium screen that you can use to set up the controls for web threats.
There are three main controls that I suggest you use, all of which are checked in this screen: (1) Block potentially dangerous websites, (2) Display the Trend Micro Toolbar on supported web browsers and (3) Prevent Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome from running malicious scripts on infected sites.
When website blocking is enabled, Titanium will prevent you from navigating to any malicious websites that it knows about. New malware hosting sites are popping up all the time, so if you go to a bad website before Titanium has learned about it – through Trend Micro’s Smart Protection Network ™ – Titanium can still block potentially malicious scripts that might infect your system.
When the Trend Micro Toolbar ™ is enabled, you get immediate ratings for URLs to websites returned in your in Internet searches. Take the example shown below where I did a Google search on Cats. Each URL in the search results has a rating icon next to it that indicates the safety of the website to which the URL points. For each website that is OK, you get the checkmark in a green icon. If a website has a bad security rating, you’ll get an X in a red icon. In this way the Trend Micro Toolbar ™ gives you information at a glance about whether websites are safe or not.
Controlling Your Exposure on Social Networks
Your communications on social networks can be a target for information theft, particularly if you make all your messages public. It’s easy to troll the public time lines of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other forums with web crawling software. The bad guys don’t even need to get into your accounts to get your public shared information.
Two remedies here: don’t communicate publically over social networks, or if you do, then don’t reveal any personal data that could be used against you, including account information, whether you are away from home on vacation – meaning now is a good time to break into your house – or any messages that might be embarrassing to you.
Titanium provides two important controls that help you manage your social networking privacy. The first is the Privacy Scanner control can login to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ accounts – with your permission of course – to check your privacy settings and give recommendations:
Titanium also extends the real-time URL rating capability of the Trend Micro Toolbar to your social networking accounts. URLs to both good and bad websites are tagged as such in the same way are they are in your Google search results, which tells you immediately whether you should or should not click on the links.
The recipe for preventing your identity from being stolen on the Internet includes equal parts of common sense, being aware of threats, and using the tools provided by security software like Trend Micro Titanium ™.
I work for Trend Micro and opinions expressed here are my own.