Technology is a wonderful thing, but it comes with a price: cybersecurity. Free Web browsers, social media sites and other digital services collect personal information like email addresses, phone numbers, place of employment, buying habits, mortgage data that is shared with advertisers. The availability of this information leaves us vulnerable to hackers. This white paper can help you learn more about what kind of personal data is typically collected, and how to secure your information online.
Today we are at a crossroads. Most of us value our privacy but also have succumbed to the allure of technological conveniences. With mobile devices, apps, social media and the Internet of Things (IoT) made up of smartwatches, smart TVs, smart cars, smart appliances, etc. so much of our privacy has disappeared.
Even if you are not concerned and value your technology and conveniences more than your privacy, you should consider the security issues introduced by the collection and availability of all of this information. Phishing attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated. Having all of our personal information online provides hackers the resources necessary to create very believable emails that trick us into clicking on links, responding, and providing more personal information or opening attachments and downloading malware.
Email phishing attacks are not the only threat. Today's technology and apps allow stalkers to more easily track their victims' whereabouts. Burglars can easily determine what valuables we possess and when we are not home. In order to protect ourselves and our businesses we must be able to recognize what information we are releasing, what is being collected, what is available, and who has access to it. This white paper merely touches the surface of this topic and does not begin to address topics such as the economic and social issues, including what information is available to potential employers, friends, dates, etc.
This white paper will review a few of the services many of us use; how information about us is collected, by whom, and for what reason; and some things we can do to limit that collection. To be clear, you can limit the information collected from this point forward but, for the most part the cat is out of the bag. In other words, there is a lot of information already out there available to almost anyone.
What is collected on us?
In reality, everything. Email addresses, email content, social security numbers, phone numbers, current location, shopping and buying habits, types of devices we use, our IP address, our contact lists, our names, current and all past physical/home addresses, place of employment, Internet browsing habits, mortgage information, criminal background, social media posts, photos, and the list goes on and on.
As revealed below, the amount of and frequency of collection is astounding. For instance, anyone can go online and do a background check on anyone else at sites like www.backgroundalert.com, which advertises 37 billion public records from thousands of federal, state, and commercial databases. Some of the information is free, but for a small fee you can dig deeper. A simple search will provide access to full contact information, criminal history, arrest history, traffic tickets, marriage records, divorce records, address history, known relatives, neighbors, and co-workers.
Most of us are familiar with and use apps on our phones and mobile devices. But we don't usually pay attention to the required permissions, instead just robotically clicking through and agreeing. So what are we agreeing to? LinkedIn, for instance, asks for permission to access phone status and identity; your precise location (GPS- and network-based) and to be able to modify your contacts It also asks to read your call log, read your contacts, write to the call log, read your calendar and events plus confidential information, modify or delete the contents of your SD card, read the contents of your SD card, add or remove accounts, create accounts and set passwords, find accounts on the device, gain full network access, receive data from the Internet, view network connections, control the phone's vibration, prevent your phone from sleeping, and more. Other apps, like Google +, want permission to take pictures and videos, record audio, access your photos, download files without notification, control the flashlight, set wallpaper, control audio settings, and much more. This is just a small sampling of the information collected about us.
Who is collecting?
As mentioned above, the list includes federal, state, and local governments, the app developers, and also, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), browser companies (Google, Firefox, and Yahoo), social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.), background check companies, and services like Zillow, Spokeo, etc. So who is really doing the collecting and why? They are advertisers and those seeking to sell your information to them, who then target you with ads.