Tag Archive for: Identity Theft Speaker

6 Ways Your Facebook Privacy Is Compromised | Sileo Group

One billion people worldwide use Facebook to share the details of their lives with their friends and may be unaware their Facebook Privacy could be compromised. Trouble is, they also might be unintentionally divulging matters they consider private to co-workers, clients and employers.

Worse yet, they may be sharing their privacy with marketing companies and even scammers, competitors and identity thieves. Luckily, with some Facebook privacy tips, you can help protect your account online.

Here are six ways Facebook could be compromising your private information and how to protect yourself:

 

1.  The new Timeline format brings old lapses in judgment back to light. Timeline, introduced in late 2011, makes it easy for people to search back through your old Facebook posts, something that was very difficult to do in the past. That could expose private matters and embarrassing photos that you’ve long since forgotten posting.

What to do: Review every entry on your Facebook timeline. To hide those you do not wish to be public, hold the cursor over the post, click the pencil icon that appears in the upper right corner, select “Edit or remove” then “Hide from timeline.” Being able to “revise” your history gives you a second chance to eliminate over-sharing or posts made in poor taste.

2.  Facebook third-party app providers can harvest personal details about you—even those you specifically told Facebook you wished to be private. Third-party apps are software applications available through Facebook but actually created by other companies. These include games and quizzes popular on Facebook like FarmVille and Words with Friends, plus applications like Skype, TripAdvisor and Yelp. Most Facebook apps are free—the companies that produce them make their money by harvesting personal details about users from their Facebook pages, then selling that information to advertisers. In other words, you are paying for the right to use Facebook using the currency of your personal information.

Many apps collect only fairly innocuous information—things like age, hometown and gender that are probably not secret. But others dig deep into Facebook data, even accessing information specifically designated as private.

Example: A recent study found that several Facebook quiz game apps collected religious affiliations, political leanings and sexual orientations. Many Facebook apps also dig up personal info from our friends’ Facebook pages—even if those friends don’t use the apps. There’s no guarantee that the app providers will sufficiently safeguard our personal information and there are numerous instances where they have done just the opposite.

What to do: Read user agreements and privacy policies carefully to understand what information you are agreeing to share before signing up for any app. The free Internet tool Privacyscore is one way to evaluate the privacy policies of the apps you currently use (www.facebook.com/privacyscore), but remember that it is provided by the very company that is collecting all of your data. You also can tighten privacy settings. In “Facebook Privacy Settings,” scroll down to “Ads, Apps and Websites,” then click “Edit Settings.” Find “Apps You Use” and click “Edit Settings” again to see your privacy options. And be sure to delete any apps you don’t use. While you are in the privacy settings, take a spin around to find out other data you are sharing that might compromise your privacy.

3.  Facebook “like” buttons are spying on you—even when you don’t click them. Each time you click a “like” button on a Web site, you broadcast your interest in a subject not just to your Facebook friends but also to Facebook and its advertising partners.

Example: Repeatedly “like” articles in a publication with a specific political viewpoint, and Facebook advertisers might figure out how you vote.

Not clicking “like” buttons won’t free you from this invasion of privacy. If you’re a Facebook user and you visit a Webpage that has a “like” button, Facebook will record that you visited even if you don’t click “like.” Facebook claims to keep Web browsing habits private, but once information is collected, there’s no guarantee that it won’t get out.

Example: If an insurance company purchases this data, it might discover that someone applying for health coverage has visited Web pages about an expensive-to-treat medical disorder. The insurer might then find an excuse to deny this person coverage, or to raise their rates substantially.

What to do: One way to prevent Facebook from knowing where you go online is to set your Web browser to block all cookies. Each browser has a different procedure for doing this, and it will mean that you will have to re-enter your user ID and password each time you visit certain Web sites.

Another option is to browse the web in “InPrivate Browsing” mode (Internet Explorer), “Incognito” mode (Google Chrome) or “Private Browsing” mode (Firefox and Safari), which seems to be a less intrusive way to raise your privacy levels.

Less conveniently, you could log out of Facebook and select “delete all cookies” from your browser’s privacy settings before visiting Web sites you don’t want Facebook to know about. There are also free plug-ins available to prevent Facebook from tracking you around the Internet, such as Facebook Blocker (webgraph.com/resources/facebookblocker).

4.  Social readers” tell your Facebook friends too much about your reading habits. Some sites, including the Washington Post and England’s The Guardian, offer “Social Reader” Facebook tools. If you sign up for one, it will tell your Facebook friends what articles you read on the site, sparking interesting discussions.

The problem: excessive sharing. The tools don’t share articles with your Facebook friends only when you click a “like” button, they share everything you read on the site. Your Facebook friends likely will feel buried under a flood of shared articles, and you might be embarrassed by what the social reader tells your friends about your reading habits.

What to do: If you’ve signed up for a social reader app, delete it. In Facebook privacy settings, choose “Apps you use,” click “Edit Settings,” locate the social reader app, then click the “X” and follow the directions to delete.

5.  Photo and video tags let others see you in unflattering and unprofessional situations. If you work for a straight-laced employer, work with conservative clients or are in the job market, you may already realize that it’s unwise to post pictures of yourself in unprofessional and possibly embarrassing situations.

But you may fail to consider that pictures other people post of you can also hurt you.

A Facebook feature called photo tags has dramatically increased this risk. The tags make it easy for Facebook users to identify by name the people in photos they post—Facebook even helps make the IDs—then link these photos to the Facebook pages of all Facebook users pictured.

What to do: Untag yourself from unflattering photos by using the “remove” option on these posts. Arrange to review all future photos you’re tagged in before they appear on your Facebook Timeline by selecting “Timeline and Tagging” in Facebook’s Privacy Settings menu, clicking “Edit settings,” then enabling “Review posts friends tag you in before they appear on your timeline”. Better yet, ask your friends and family not to post pictures of you without your permission. Be sure to extend the same courtesy to them by asking whether or not they mind you tagging them in a photo.

6.  Our Facebook friends—and those friends’ friends—offer clues to our own interests and activities. Even if you’re careful not to provide sensitive information about yourself on Facebook, those details could be exposed by the company you keep.

Example: A 2009 MIT study found it was possible to determine with great accuracy whether a man was gay based on factors including the percentage of his Facebook friends who were openly gay—even if this man did not disclose his sexual orientation himself.

Sexual orientation isn’t the only potential privacy issue. If several of your Facebook friends list a potentially risky or unhealthy activity, such as motorcycling, cigar smoking or bar hopping among their interests—or include posts or pictures of themselves pursuing this interest—an insurer, college admissions officer, employer or potential employer might conclude that you likely enjoy this pursuit yourself.

What to do: Take a close look at the interests and activities mentioned by your Facebook friends on their pages. If more than a few of them discuss a dangerous hobby, glory in unprofessional behavior, or are open about matters of sexual orientation or political or religious belief that you consider private, it might be wise to either remove most or all of these people from your friends list, or at least make your friends list private. Click the “Friends” unit under the cover photo on your Facebook page, click “Edit,” then select “Only Me” from the drop-down menu.

Most of all, remember that Facebook and other social networking sites are social by nature, which means that they are designed to share information with others. The responsibility to protect your personal and private information doesn’t just fall on the social networks; it is also up to you.  Following these Facebook privacy tips can help you succeed in keeping your most personal information safe. 

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgwQPhpRPd0&rel=0]

Can Medical Identity Theft Really Kill You? [Burning Questions Ep. 2]

There has been a great deal in the news about medical identity theft leading to death. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Less likely than dying of a heart attack because you eat too much bacon. But let’s explore the possibility of death by medical identity theft (below, in this article), and why the threat gets sensationalized (in the video).

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Stop Check Fraud with Security Checks

How to Stop Check Fraud and Check Washing

Check washing, a highly common form of check fraud, is the practice of removing legitimate check information, especially the “Pay To” name and the amount, and replacing it with data beneficial to the criminal (his own name or a larger amount) through chemical or electronic means.  One of the many ways to protect yourself against check fraud is so important that it deserves its very own article.

A foolproof way to protect your checks from being altered, whether by washing or by electronic means, is to use security checks offered by most companies.

Here are some of the features to look for when you’re purchasing High Security Checks.  These features will safeguard you not only against check washing, but other high tech forms of check fraud as well:

  • Safety security paper (visible and invisible fluorescent fibers, chemical-sensitive)
  • Foil hologram (cannot be reproduced by copiers or scanners)
  • High resolution border elements (intricate design is difficult to reproduce)
  • True watermark (cannot be reproduced by copiers or scanners)
  • Toner adhesion  (damage is visible if toner is lifted or scraped)
  • Void element (the word void appears if photocopied or chemically altered)
  • False positive test area (instant authenticity test with black light or counterfeit pen)
  • Complex pantograph background pattern and high-security colors
  • Thermochromatic ink (reacts to heat to deter copying)
  • Original document backing (deters cut and paste alteration attempts)
  • Chemical wash detection area (shows chemical alteration attempts)
  • Security warning box (becomes visible when photocopied)
  • Padlock icon (signifies that checks meet industry standards)

One more vital tip to foil the check washers: use a dark ink, gel-based pen, preferably one that states it is a security pen. Take a look at the video to the left to see how easy it is to wash a check if you are not using a high security gel-based pen. 

Yes, you may spend a few extra dollars for security checks and pens, but compared to the staggering cost of recovering from check-washing schemes (small businesses lose more than 7%  of their annual revenue to check fraud  – over $600 billion), it’s a drop in the bucket!  Your peace of mind and saved recovery time are worth it.

Checks Unlimited provides personal Securiguard checks with 7 advanced security features including chemical protective paper, microprint signature lines, and a 2 dimensional holographic foil that is irreproducible on copiers or scanners.  Their Security Center also offers fraud prevention tips and security products!

John Sileo is CEO of The Sileo Group, and a  keynote speaker on cyber security, identity theft and business fraud prevention. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

 

Clean Up Your Online Profile with Fox and Friends

“Clickjacking” and “Likejacking” – Be Aware!

None of us wants to be part of a scam that allows links to be forwarded as if from a friend, invading their privacy and endangering their sensitive  information. It’s not always easy to avoid bad sites but by just being aware of the problem, you can become more adept. The following article is a summary of an original post By Rob Spiegel, E-Commerce Times.

In its on-going effort to mitigate spam activity, Facebook filed a lawsuit against a company that allegedly ran a “likejacking” operation. “We’re hopeful that this kind of pressure will deter large scale spammers and scammers,” said Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes. The state of Washington is also applying pressure, having mounted a similar lawsuit against the same company. Both suits were filed citing violation of the CAN-SPAM Act, which prohibits the sending of misleading electronic communications.  Facebook and Washington state filed federal lawsuits on Thursday against Adscend Media for “clickjacking,” a form of spamming that fools users into visiting advertising sites and divulging personal information.


“Likejacking” is similar; victims are tricked into using Facebook’s Like button to spread spam. Users believe links to spam sites are being sent to them by friends, and the advertiser collects money from clients for every user misdirected. A prominent example is the indictment in California of self-proclaimed “spam king” Sanford Wallace in August, Noyes said. “Two years ago, Facebook sued him, and a U.S. court ordered him to pay a (US)$711 million judgment. Now he faces serious jail time for this illegal conduct.” Facebook also secured a $360.5 million judgment against spammer Philip Porembski, said Noyes, which “followed an $873 million spam judgment in 2008 against Adam Guerbuez and Atlantis Blue Capital for sending sleazy messages to our users.” The Guerbuez judgment was the largest award ever under the CAN-SPAM Act, he noted.

Clickjacking is a programming technique that employs a seemingly innocent button to trick users into visiting sites unintentionally. Likejacking is a similar technique that utilizes Facebook’s Like button. The technique is also referred to as “UI redressing.” Clickjacking is “quite well understood,” Roger Kay, founder and principal of Endpoint Technologies, told the E-Commerce Times. “It is used by both legit and illegit programs.” Both clickjacking and likejacking are designed to trick users.

“When someone browsing clicks on a site, the site can execute arbitrary code in the browser,” said Kay. “It can set a cookie, say, for Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), or do more nefarious things, like inject malware designed to call other malware later.” Clickjacking has been prevalent for years, and likejacking has become similarly entrenched. Many users of Facebook have likely experienced it in the form of a product-related message that seemed to be from a friend. “The use of the technique is widespread,” said Kay. “Consumers need to use better judgment about which links they click on.”

Links can be forwarded as if from friends, and some come-ons are pitched just right to get around the user’s suspicions he noted.”If you’re the target of a spear phish, then the attack is tailored to you,” said Kay. “So, avoiding bad sites becomes a kind of ninja art everyone must learn.”

 

John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation or watch him on Anderson Cooper60 Minutes or Fox Business1.800.258.8076.

Video: How a Credit Freeze Stops Identity Theft

A Simple Credit Freeze will Lock Down Your Credit

Freezing your credit is the number one way to protect against financial identity theft. If everyone in the country locked down their credit, identity thieves would quickly be out of business. At least, a major part of their business. Take 30 minutes and lower your chances of identity theft drastically (see the online Freeze links at the bottom of this post).

To go directly to placing a security freeze on your 3 bureau accounts, page down to the bottom section.

Every time you establish new credit (e.g., open up a new credit card, store account or bank account, finance a car or home loan, etc.), an entry is created in your credit file which is maintained by companies like Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (listed below). The trouble is, with your name, address and social security number, an identity thief can pretend to be you and can establish credit (i.e., spend your net worth) in your name.

A freeze is simply an agreement you make with the three main credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – listed below) that they won’t allow new accounts (credit card, banking, brokerage, loans, rental agreements, etc.) to be attached to your name/social security number unless you contact the credit bureau, give them a password and allow them to unfreeze or thaw your account for a short period of time. Yes, freezing your credit takes a bit of time (maybe an hour of work), can be a little inconvenient when you want to set up a new account (that said, let’s face it, businesses want to make it as easy as possible to unfreeze your credit because they benefit when you set up new accounts and spend more money) and it can cost a few dollars (generally about $10 to unfreeze, a small price compared to the recovery costs of identity theft). And it is worth it! It’s like putting locks on your doors.

Since all states don’t allow you, by law, to freeze your credit, the three credit reporting bureaus have begun to offer credit freezes on a national basis. This is a major step forward in the prevention of identity theft, even if they are offering it for profit reasons (they make money every time you freeze/unfreeze your credit). If your state does not currently offer credit freezes by law, you can now apply with each credit reporting bureau individually. Regardless of where you live, freeze your credit today.A credit freeze doesn’t affect your existing credit – it doesn’t freeze credit cards, bank accounts or loans you already have. It only freezes access to your account unless someone has a password to get in. It’s like having a PIN number on your ATM card. It also doesn’t lower (or raise) your credit score.

Equifax Credit Freeze
P.O. Box 105788 Atlanta, Georgia 30348
Toll-Free: 1.800.685.1111

TransUnion Credit Freeze
Fraud Victim Assistance Department P.O. Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834
Toll-Free: 1.888.909.8872

Experian Credit Freeze
P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013
Toll-Free: 1.888.397.3742

John Sileo is an award-winning author and highly- entertaining keynote speaker on the dark art of deception (cybersecurity, identity theft, data privacy, social engineering). He is CEO of The Sileo Group and his clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. 303.777.3221

How to Opt Out of Junk Mail to Protect Identity


There are complete industries built around collecting, massaging and selling your data – your name, phone number, address, spending patterns, surfing habits, net worth, the age of your children, the magazines you buy, etc. Companies buy bits of your privacy so that they can knowledgeably market products to you that you are likely to purchase. The problem is, that data, once collected, is often breached by hackers who want to know more about you.

To minimize the amount of your personal information bought and sold on the data market, begin “opting out”.  Opting out is the process of notifying organizations that collect your personal information to stop sharing it with other organizations. “Pre-approved” credit card offers (i.e., financial junk mail) are a major source of identity theft. Those mailers give thieves an easy way to set up credit card accounts in your name without your consent. They spend money on the card and default on the balance, leaving you with the mess of proving that you didn’t make the purchases. The solution is to opt out of receiving pre-approved credit, home loan and insurance offers as well as mass marketing databases.

Pre-approved credit offers (also called pre-screened or pre-qualified credit offers) are possible because credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union – companies that collect and sell financial data on nearly every American) make a great deal of money selling your identity (i.e., name, address, phone number, age, credit score) to credit card, loan and insurance companies.  But it is your right to stop the sale of your information.

Fortunately, there are ways for you to “opt-out” of widespread information sharing (see the list of more than 120 ways below).

The Top 4 Opt-Out Opportunities:
  1. www.OptOutPreScreen.com. Remove yourself from the marketing lists sold by the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. There is not cost for this list.
  2. www.DMAchoice.org. This puts you on a Do Not Mail list for the Direct Marketing Association. This is a free service online ( $1 by mail) and allows you to remove yourself from receiving previously unsolicited catalogs, magazines, “other” mail offers, and provides a link back to OptOutPreScreen for credit offers.
  3. White Pages. That’s right, your old-fashioned printed phone directory is the source for most of the online contact info databases. To remove your directory listing you have to contact your local phone company .
  4. www.Spokeo.com. To opt out, read this blog post about [intlink id=”1752″ type=”post”]removing your info from Spokeo[/intlink]. This is one of the more utilized sites by identity thieves, stalkers and scammers.

There is a slower and more tedious process of opting out of online directories (i.e., you have to visit every one. Some (Spokeo.com)  are more important than others (Whitepages.com) because of the information that they collect. Sites such as Spokeo.com can have as much information as your physical address and pictures of your home, while others may just house your phone number. These sites spend hours upon hours scouring public records such as marriage licenses, birth certificates, and real estate purchases for this type of information.

Since most online directories typically offer a way to opt out of their listings you would think they would make it easy. Not so. They tend to hide this option deep within the site, as they don’t actually want you to leave. Luckily, The Privacy Rights Clearing House has done most of the legwork in their Comprehensive Opt Out List. I suggest starting with a few main sites, 123people.com, spokeo.com, etc. and continuously adding to it over time. Opt out of one a week if you like, and eventually your data will be less exposed. Protecting your privacy and identity is a layering process. It is easy for people to get overwhelmed, especially when it comes to online directories.

John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation (he shares how he lost $300,000, 2 years and his business to data breach) or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.

College Identity Theft Speaker

I’ve got a neighbor who’s going back to college this week and reminds me that this is by far the highest risk group for identify theft and it’s for a couple of reasons.  When these kids are going off to college, it’s the first time they are getting true financial independence, which might never have been trained to handle.  They have access to credit cards, to new bank accounts, and they’re managing it themselves.  That’s a huge red flag that there’s going to be trouble.  Number two, they’re going into an environment where their stuff is not particularly protected.  They’re in a dorm room, they’ve got roommates that may need extra cash; they know they can take advantage of them.  So it’s kind of a high risk environment.  The third reason is because they do so much online.  There’s so much social media interaction and that’s where ton of information is stolen. So you need to take some of these steps that are in this blog post.  Help your students take them.  It will help them out not just this year in college but helping them build their financial future going forward.  Your identity is pretty much everything in terms of your net worth. You got to take care of it now.

John speaks professionally about social media privacy and identity theft to college students.

7 Data Theft Hotspots for Meeting Professionals

Everybody wants your data, especially when you are in the business of meetings. Your data doesn’t just have a high face value (e.g., the attendee data, including credit card numbers that you collect and store in your online registration system), it also has a high resale value .

Here is how the theft is most often committed in your industry:

  • Competitors hire one of your employees and they leave with a thumb drive full of confidential files, including client lists, personally identifying information on talent and employees, financial performance data, etc.
  • Social engineers (con artists) mine your employee’s Facebook profiles to gain a heightened level of trust which allows them to manipulate your human assets
  • Cyber criminals hack your lax computer network or sniff the unprotected wireless connections you and your employees use while traveling (Starbucks, hotels, airports).
  • Mobile Computing Thieves target your digital devices (Laptop, smartphone, tablet) and other weak points while on the road.
  • Opportunistic Vendors (Cleaning services, painters, landlords) quietly collect data assets from your desks, filing cabinets, trash cans and dumpsters when you aren’t even in the office.

Research is screaming at us—more than 80% of businesses surveyed have already experienced at least one breach (average recovery cost according to the Ponemon Institute: $7.2 million) and have no idea of how to stop a repeat performance.

A Quick and Dirty Way to Calculate Your Risk as a Meeting Professional

Here is a quick ROI formula for your risk: Multiply the number of attendees, employees and executives for whom you store any one of the following pieces of sensitive identity – name, address, email, credit card number, SSN, TIN, phone number – and multiply that by $240 (the industry average per record of lost data). So, if you have identifying information on 1,000 individuals, your out-of-pocket expenses (breach recovery, notification, lawsuits, etc.) are estimated at $240,000 even if you don’t lose a SSN or TIN. That is not a guess, those are real numbers.

As agencies who already stretch every resource to the limit just to stay in the game, you need to do more with less. I can’t possibly give you all of the answers to protecting your bureau or management company in a simple article, but I’d like to share 7 Data Theft Hotspots that you should address first.

  1. Start with the humans. One of the costliest data security mistakes I see departments make is thinking that this is a problem for large businesses only. It is a big problem for large businesses, but data theft is far more damaging to governmental organizations because of the increased regulation and legal scrutiny. Strategy: Give your people the tools to protect themselves personally from identity theft. In addition to showing them that you care (a good employee retention strategy), you are developing a privacy language that can be applied at work without spending all kinds of money on a security risk assessment. Once they understand opting out, encryption and identity monitoring from a personal standpoint, it’s a short leap to apply that to your attendee databases and intellectual property. You can do this in very simple, inexpensive ways. While this doesn’t necessarily train them on the specific tools to protect your bureau’s intellectual capital and customer data, it does increase their awareness of data theft and shows them that their self-interest is involved (i.e., their job depends on it). To get them started on protecting themselves, you are welcome to use this free Identity Theft Prevention Checklist.
  2. Immunize against social engineering. The root cause of most data loss in professional services companies like yours is not technology; it’s a human being who makes a costly miscalculation out of fear, obligation, confusion, bribery or sense of urgency. Social engineering is the craft of manipulating information out of you or your staff by pushing buttons that elicit automatic responses. Data thieves push these buttons for highly profitable ends, including spear-phishing, social networking fraud, unauthorized building access, and computer hacking. Strategy: Immunize your employees against social engineering. First, when asked for information, they should immediately apply a healthy dose of professional skepticism (Hogwash J). Train them to automatically assume that the requestor is a spy of some sort. Second, teach them to take control of the situation. If they didn’t initiate the transfer of information (e.g., the credit card company called you, not vice versa), have them stop and think before they share. Finally, during this moment of hesitation, empower them to ask a series of aggressive questions aimed at exposing fraud. This is the key – getting them to be curious in the face of a request for sensitive information. These are some of the materials that I went through in an abbreviated fashion during IASB, but you can communicate them just as well as I can.
  3. Stop broadcasting your digital data. There are two main sources of wireless data leakage in the meeting professionals world: the weakly encrypted wireless router in your office and the unprotected wireless connection you use to access the Internet in an airport, hotel or café. Both connections are constantly sniffed for unencrypted data being sent from your computer to the web. Strategy: Stop trying to keep your computer and network security in house and inexpensive – it is part of the costs of owning all of that processing power. Have a security professional configure the wireless router in your office to utilize WPA-2 encryption or better. If possible, implement MAC-specific addressing and mask your SSID. Don’t try to do this yourself. Instead, just hand a qualified technician this paragraph and continue to do what you do best (booking me J) while she earns your wisely spent dollars. While she’s there, have him do a security audit of your network, including firewall penetration, password strength, user-level access permissions, etc.Another major source of data theft (especially in the meetings industry) is Wi-Fi hotspot usage. Most Free hotspots do little to protect the data that you transmit over the wireless network. In fact, many home and company wireless networks are not set up to provide a secure connection to the internet and are, therefore, no safer than those you access for free in cafés, airports and hotels. Just say no to using free Wi-Fi hotspots, on your phone and your laptop. The most common form of exploitation associated with hotspots are “man-in-the-middle” attacks where a spy intercepts the transmission between your wireless network card and the cafés wireless router or modem. Using a legal, free and simple-to-use tool like Firesheep, a thief (or competitor/law enforcement, etc.) can sit next to you in a café and “sniff” your connections. Luckily, your Smartphone can provide a proactive way to help you protect your connection to the Internet when surfing wirelessly. Strategy: Tethering connects your computer to the Internet using a Smartphone (or Internet-enabled cell phone). It increases security because the mobile transmission between your cell phone and the cell tower is encrypted (scrambled) and hard to intercept. Therefore, when you use your Smartphone to surf the web, you are accessing a protected connection that probably can’t be sniffed. The connection might be slightly slower than a traditional Wi-Fi hotspot, but it is also much safer. Simply call your wireless provider and ask them if your Smartphone has tethering capabilities. You shouldn’t have to pay more than about $15 per month to put this solution into affect. Remember to do it for all company Smartphones as well.
  4. Eliminate the inside spy. Chances are you don’t always perform a very serious background check before hiring a new employee. That is short sighted, as most of the worst data theft ends up being an “inside job” where a dishonest employee siphons information out the back door when no one is looking. Many employees who are dishonest now were also dishonest in the past, which is why they no longer work for their former employer. Strategy: Invest in a comprehensive background check before you hire rather than wasting multiples cleaning up after a thief steals valuable data assets. Follow up on the prospect’s references and ask for some that aren’t on the application. Investigating someone’s background will give you the knowledge necessary to let your gut-level instinct go to work and will discourage dishonest applicants from going further in the process. Finally, make sure that the prospect you are employing knows that you are going to these lengths to check them out. Most people who are trying to gain employment in order to defraud you are scared away when they know you are investigating them.
  5. Don’t let your mobile data walk away. In the most trusted research studies, 36-50% of all major data breach originates with the loss of a laptop or mobile computing device (smart phone, etc.). Mobility, consequently, is a double-edged sword; but it’s a sword that we’re probably not going to give up easily in the high-travel world of the bureau and meetings industry. Strategy: Utilize the security professional mentioned above to implement strong passwords, whole disk encryption and remote data wiping capabilities. Set your screen saver to engage after 5 minutes of inactivity and check the box that requires you to enter your password upon re-entry. This will help keep unwanted users out of your system. Finally, lock this goldmine of data down when you aren’t using it. Either carry the computer on your person in a backpack, store it in the hotel room safe, or lock it in an office or fire safe when not using it. Physical security is the most overlooked, most effective form of protection and for people who travel as much as you do, it’s a major risk.
  6. Spend a day in your dumpster. You have probably already purchased at least one shredder to destroy sensitive documents before they are thrown out. The problem tends to be that no one in the business uses it consistently. Strategy: Take a day to pretend that you are your fiercest competitor and sort through all of the trash going out your door for sensitive documents. Do you find old W9s, invoices, credit card receipts, bank statements, customer lists, trade secrets, employee records or otherwise compromising information? It’s not uncommon to find these sources of data theft, and parading them before your staff is a great way to drive the importance of privacy home. If your employees know that you conduct occasional “dumpster audits” to see what company intelligence they are unsafely throwing away, they will think twice about failing to shred the next document. Also, check to make sure that these same documents are locked in a filing cabinet, safe or password-protected electronic format.
  7. Anticipate the clouds. Cloud computing (when you store your data on other people’s servers), is quickly becoming a major threat to the security of organizational data. Whether an employee is posting sensitive attendee info on their Facebook page (which Facebook has the right to distribute as they see fit) or you are storing meetings data in a poorly protected, non-compliant server farm, you will ultimately be held responsible when that data is breached. Strategy: Spend a few minutes evaluating your business’s use of cloud computing by asking these questions: Do you understand the cloud service provider’s privacy policy (e.g. that the government reserves the right to subpoena your Gmails for use in a court of law)? Do you agree to transfer ownership or control of rights in any way when you accept the provider’s terms of service (which you do every time you log into the service)? What happens if the cloud provider (Salesforce.com, Google Apps) goes out of business or is bought out? Is your data stored locally, or in another country that would be interested in stealing your secrets (China, Iran, Russia)? Are you violating any compliance laws by hosting customer data on servers that you don’t own, and ultimately, don’t control?

This is a very quick overview of some of the risks that I see as most pressing for meeting professionals. Here’s the good news… your espionage and data theft countermeasures don’t need to be sophisticated or expensive to be effective. Targeting the hotspots above is a savvy, incremental way to keep spies out of your agency. But it won’t start working until you do.

John Sileo speaks professionally on identity theft, social media exposure and online reputation and is the award-winning author of the newly released Privacy Means Profit. His clients include the Department of Defense, the FDIC, FTC, Pfizer and the Federal Reserve Bank. Learn more about bringing him in to motivate your organization to better protect information assets and develop information leaders.