So much of our lives are lived online these days. We catch up on the news, do our work, shop, bank, and even socialize online, blurring any boundaries that once kept our public and private personas separate. This seamless movement from one task to another, all in the comfort of our homes, creates a false sense of security:
- Are the people we chat with online actually friends who will maintain our privacy?
- Can the work we do on our computers be hacked, giving access to our private accounts on the same machine?
- Have we developed fatigue or laziness about passwords and security updates?
What is Digital Identity?
Our digital identities are a mirror image of our lives, but in keystrokes: it’s the sum total of our online work, banking, shopping, socialization, and browsing history that creates a profile of each of us as a person. Every time we go online, we leave traces of that identity that others seek to piece together and exploit for their own purposes. Your online identity is a target for fraud by those who seek to take over accounts to steal, to impersonate, or to embarrass.
In this new age it’s important to understand identity theft consequences and the role of identity theft protection. A few crucial steps can protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, such as:
- keeping up with system updates on your computer
- using a password manager to ensure unique, challenging passwords protect important data and accounts
- checking your credit report at least annually to ensure nobody is using your identity fraudulently
- using a Virtual Private Network when away from a password-protected network to ensure encryption of data entered online
- using anti-virus software on all devices to create a virtual barrier against intruders.
Millennials are Major Targets for Fraud
Millennials are a generation raised with powerful computers in the palms of their hands. Most of them have never known a world in which they navigate without the aid of online information to tell them where to find what they need – along with peer reviews of each option. These factors have created a generation that automatically trusts the information on their devices, the perfect victims for many forms of digital scams and hacking.
Experts say Millennials comprise almost half of all phishing victims. Phishing is a blanket approach to fraud that involves sending false claims in emails to a broad swath of people, hoping to get just a few to fall victim. Usually, these attacks pretend to originate from banks, workplaces, or online stores and demand immediate action that exposes account information to theft and fraud. Perhaps because their devices are like extensions of themselves, Millennials are easy victims.
An additional vulnerability is sharing personal information on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms. By following the lead of their peers, Millennials may inadvertently divulge important information that hackers can compile to breach security questions on accounts. These digital breadcrumbs may lead to social engineering attacks. These are often successful when hackers use bits of information to personalize emails or SMS messages for phishing by making them more realistic, such as by knowing the name of the individual’s high school.
Cybersecurity: Building a Secure Digital Society
Our age of digital nomads – working from anywhere – requires higher-than-ever security for personal information, both for individuals and for businesses that take advantage of a tech-savvy generation. While internet providers seek to extend networks in a blanket-like fashion across neighborhoods and around cities, convenience may be our undoing. Criminals seeking to gather the digital identities of others for fraudulent purposes are lurking behind every unprotected URL and open wifi network.
Keeping Your Digital Identity In Your Hands
Experts suggest taking the following precautions to protect your identity from online fraud and theft:
- Use encrypted apps and email, and a VPN to thwart interception of messages and personal data;
- Avoiding unsecured public Wi-Fi networks.
- When subscribing to a service check the fine print of tracking cookie agreements to ensure your data isn’t going to be hoovered up and sold to data miners.
- Carefully police personal information shared on social media, including the most innocuous details like the name of your first pet.
- Use restraint in responding to any unsolicited messages via social media, email, or text/SMS, including not clicking on any links provided.
Security experts urge everyone to have more than one email address to avoid hackers and scams. A primary email should be used for official banking and business purposes while a secondary email may be used to sign up for contests and free offers.
Cybersecurity Challenges in New Digital Era
Cloud computing and cloud storage are the new catchphrases in technology. They mean access to your apps and information anywhere along with fewer mainframe computers storing data. They also require a new approach to cyber security and identity protection.
While cloud computing isn’t necessarily less safe than old-fashioned data storage it’s important to approach it with a fresh perspective and determination to do things right. For businesses that means deleting old information including old employee files and closing access points that might be exploited by a hacker. For individuals, using cloud computing should mean stepping up security with complex passwords managed digitally and two-factor or multi factor authentication on all accounts containing sensitive personal information.
Don’t welcome new apps and connections with the same lax mindset that was acceptable before 2020: the new digital era requires a fresh approach to securing personal information, and the resolve to make the safety of your digital identity a priority. Integrating good digital hygiene into your daily work habits can save months of headaches in the future.
BIO: David Lukić is an information privacy, security and compliance consultant at IDstrong.com. The passion to make cyber security accessible and interesting has led David to share all the knowledge he has.