Identity theft is an issue for us all. After all, what is the point in building our wealth through smart investing if someone steals it from us along with our identities? Investors Business Daily (IBD) had a rather scary article today entitled “SRA Urges US Travelers to Act Vs. Data Theft.” The article is an interview with someone who has a vested interest in security, and the article is written to be aimed at businessmen traveling overseas — BUT — the article brought up several good points that apply to us all and which don’t always come up when we discuss identity theft.
To my mind, one of the biggest holes in our personal security is the proliferation of free and open wireless internet connections. They are everywhere — airports, coffee shops, McDonald’s. And they’re nearly all wide open with no security at all. One might as well stand on a chair at Starbucks and bellow our e-mail for all to hear because our plain-text e-mail has about the same level of security as the harangue we just unleashed on the other patrons. Want worse? How about the simple browser add-on Firesheep? By sniffing cookies from your e-mail and social networking sites, anyone can have instant access to your e-mail accounts, Facebook account, and on and on…. Don’t think this is some weird hacker trick you won’t encounter. If this 55-year old bald guy knows about it, do you honestly think legions of teenagers don’t too?
There’s a simple and inexpensive way to fix this vulnerability. When I am connected on any public wireless network — that includes hotels by the way — once I have my basic internet connection done all the rest of my browsing and e-mailing is done through a personal VPN. This makes everything you transmit on that open public wireless network private and secure. I use StrongVPN. It’s easy to set up and it’s not at all expensive. A VPN — Virtual Private Network — sets up an encrypted link between your computer and a StrongVPN server (they are all over the World) which secures your data in transit. It certainly keeps you safe in Starbucks. If you want to check out StrongVPN, you can click on the link below:
The IBD article also talked about data theft from RFID chipped items and documents you may have. All U.S. passports are “chipped” with your personal data. If you have a government-issued ID with a gold square on the front — same thing. Many European debit and credit cards have such chips in them now, too. Oh, and don’t forget your cellphone SIM cards which can also be scanned. I confess I did know about this vulnerability but had filed it away in my mind until I was reminded today. You can buy special wallets to protect your “chipped” items like passports, credit cards, etc. Again, they aren’t expensive. But… if you are flying, do put them through the X-ray with your baggage. They have metal in them and I guarantee you will never get through the magnetometer with one in your back pocket.