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Is Document Shredding Still a Thing in This Digital Age?

Document shredding seems to have fallen out of favor. I recently received some questions from a client wondering if, in the age of remote massive database breaches by pajama-clad hackers, we should still shred our sensitive documents.  If it is so easy to access it digitally, then why would anyone go through the arduous, dirty work of old-fashioned dumpster diving?

In case you have the same questions, here are my thoughts:

Is Identity theft via paper still an issue in this digital age?

Without even a moment’s hesitation – YES IT IS! It no longer gets the press it used to and dumpster diving, physical file theft and the like never account for the sheer volume of identities stolen (it’s more profitable and efficient to hack a million IDs at a time from Facebook or Equifax), but they are still part of the criminal toolkit, especially for local criminals (who don’t have hacking experience) and especially for organized criminals that need small bits of information from a target before they socially engineer them to hand over the keys to the kingdom (e.g., gaining their trust to manipulate them out of their user login credentials at work based on information from physical documents, embarrassing trash, etc.).

Do people still need to shred all of their paper documents? 

The initial answer is no, because that information is already out there in volumes. The wiser answer, from a habituation perspective, is yes. In 30 seconds a day (if your shredder is convenient), you can shred everything with personal information on it? That way, when it does have something more valuable (account number, last four of your SSN or any of those small bread crumbs that lead to greater levels of trust and access), you have already established a good habit. When users are advised to just shred X or Y, instead of everything personal, they eventually forget or give up because the volume is too low.

Are cross-cut document shredders enough or should we use higher-security micro-cut shredders?

For the average person who doesn’t work in a defense-related, finance-related or health-related job (you get the idea), I think that a simple confetti shredder is plenty sufficient. There is technology out there to recreate documents, but that isn’t really the concern of your average reader. If they have security clearance or deal with highly sensitive information from work in their home, then yes, the higher end are better.

The Achilles heel of shredding is that people don’t take care of them (empty them, oil them, etc.) and they break like a car with no oil, so that is part of the deal – you have to maintain them. I still have a shredder in my home office and several at work. We put all of the documents in a bin next to the shredder and shred them a couple of times per week before the trash goes out. That makes it a bit more efficient.

In other words, how paranoid should we still be about shredding documents?

Paranoid is a touch too strong. Just be smart. Think about unshredded documents as the reconnaissance tools that cyber criminals use to commit larger crimes. If I find your bank statement unshredded in the trash, I can now call you, pretend to be the bank using a caller ID spoofing app, recite the last four digits of your account and get the information I need acting as the bank to close out your account on the very next call. And from a corporate perspective, it’s even more valuable data.

So what are the basic reasons behind document shredding?

  • Prevent identity theft
  • Protect your customers and your employees
  • It’s the law (under the Data Protection Act)
  • It saves space
  • It’s “green”! Shredded paper makes recycling much easier

What documents should you shred?

  • Medical records and bills (keep for at least a year after payment in case of disputes)
  • Old tax returns: after three years of returns you are allowed to throw them away, as long as you aren’t committing fraud – otherwise you can be held liable indefinitely
  • Old photo IDs
  • Bank, investment, medical or insurance statements (or anything else that contains vital identity or account numbers)
  • Credit card offers and expired credit and debit cards
  • Canceled or voided checks
  • Pay stubs
  • Copies of sales receipts
  • Convenience checks (Blank checks your credit card company sends to borrow against your credit line)
  • Junk mail that contains personally identifying information (watch for barcodes)
  • Mail related to your children or their school

Remember, shredding isn’t only for large companies.  As someone who personally was a victim of dumpster diving, trust me and take the extra four seconds to shred that piece of trash; it may save you years of time spent trying to recover from financial devastation.

About Cyber Security Keynote Speaker John Sileo

John Sileo loves his role as an “energizer” for cyber security at conferences, corporate trainings, and industry events. He specializes in making security fun so that it sticks. His clients include the Pentagon, Schwab and many organizations so small (and security conscious) that you won’t have even heard of them. John has been featured on 60 Minutes, recently cooked meatballs with Rachel Ray and got started in cyber security when he lost everything, including his $2 million software business, to cybercrime. Call if you would like to bring John to speak to your members – 303.777.3221.

FaceApp is Fun, But Putin Will Own Your Privacy

FaceApp quite literally owns your face forever (or atleast the image of your face).

It’s funny how we spend billions of dollars a year on health and beauty products and treatments designed to keep us looking, as Carrie Underwood sings, “young and beautiful”, but when a fun app comes along that gives us a goofy look or makes us look 30 years older, we jump at the chance to see it and share it with all of our friends on Social Media.  That’s exactly the case with FaceApp, an app that alters photos to make you look years older or alter facial expressions, looks, etc.  Thanks in part to use by celebrities such as Underwood, the Jonas Brothers and LeBron James, more than 150 million users have uploaded their photos to the app and it is now the top-ranked app on the iOS App Store in 121 countries. Free, fun and harmless, right?  Maybe, maybe not…

Every app is uploading your data and daily habits and locations, combining it with your social media profile and exploiting or selling it. That’s the profit model of the internet, not just FaceApp. That’s not what makes this particular app unique or noteworthy.  Wireless lab, creators of FaceApp is based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which means that by default, Vladimir Putin has a picture of you someplace on his hard driveLet’s be clear, Russia can get into any centralized database of facial recognition photos it wants to – this just makes it easier for them.

Not only that, but FaceApp retains a perpetual license to utilize your photo in any way it sees fit. In their words you are granting FaceApp “a perpetual, irrevocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully-paid, transferable sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your User Content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your User Content in all media formats and channels now known or later developed, without compensation to you”.

This makes it not just a privacy issue, but also a security issue, as there is no guarantee that your photos and device data are stored securely. In fact, there is almost no chance that they are stored securely. In addition to your photo, some other personal information is transmitted, and you are never alerted to the fact that either are being uploaded.

For now, it seems that they are only uploading the photo that you choose to upload, but I see no reason why they won’t slyly begin uploading every photo in your album as their terms of service don’t preclude that evolution. Facebook didn’t always collect and sell our information as they do now, but that didn’t stop them when profit is involved.  Information collection companies start by collecting very little until we stop paying attention, and then they transmit everything. They love the slippery slope of boiling the privacy frog!

So-what can you do about it?

  • The Democratic National Committee sent out a warning to campaigns recently telling people to delete the apps from their phone.  It’s a start, but deleting the app doesn’t get rid of your data in the cloud, and doing so is time-consuming and confusing.
  • For the fastest processing, try sending the requests from the FaceApp mobile app using ‘Settings->Support->Report a bug’ with the word ‘privacy’ in the subject line.
  • If it’s not too late, resist the urge to download the app!  Maybe look at a picture of your parents instead.

Most importantly, the next time you are giving away access to your photos or allowing any app to access data on your phone, read their privacy or data use policy first. You will be amazed at what you are giving away for free that makes them gobs of money.

John Sileo loves his role as an “energizer” for cyber security at conferences, corporate trainings, and industry events. He specializes in making security fun so that it sticks. His clients include the Pentagon, Schwab and many organizations so small (and security conscious) that you won’t have even heard of them. John has been featured on 60 Minutes, recently cooked meatballs with Rachel Ray and got started in cyber security when he lost everything, including his $2 million software business, to cybercrime. Call if you would like to bring John to speak to your members – 303.777.3221.

Security Awareness Programs Like Mushy Overnight Oats?

To diagnose your under-performing cyber security awareness programs, all you need to do is look at my breakfast today. My daughter introduced me to overnight oats. “It’s the perfect breakfast, Dad – full of energy, takes no time at all, packed with simple, healthy ingredients like oatmeal, almond milk and peanut butter”, she said. “That’s what I need!”, I said, “All of the power with none of the fuss”. So I took her recipe and promptly ignored it. I added cottage cheese, chia and some lemon – because if it was already good, I was going to  make it even better.

What I got was curdled mush that crawled out of the bowl like John Cusack’s dinner in Better off Dead. The theory of overnight oats was brilliant. It was my execution that made me gag.

Many security awareness programs choke on their own ingredients because, like my overnight oats, they don’t follow a recipe when they plan the program. The have no overarching security “end” in mind at the beginning, to paraphrase Stephen Covey. Empowering the human element of cyber security is the cultural ingredient that many organizations overlook. Think about tweaking your recipe a bit to make it more than palatable.

A Recipe for Effective Security Awareness Programs

One byproduct of serving as the opening keynote speaker for hundreds of security awareness programs around the world (in addition to the bottomless pit of mileage points I’ve earned), is that I have dined amidst training programs, OVER and OVER again, that leave me hungering for more substance and lots more flavor. Here is my simple recipe for a filling, enjoyable and effective Security Awareness Program:

Ingredients (For a Culture of Security that Cooks):

  • (1-3) C-Level Executive(s) who “Believe” (Ownership)
  • (1) Cross-Functional Business Case w/ Compelling ROI (Strategy)
  • High-Engagement Content Rooted in Personal Security (Methodology)
  • (6-12) Regular, Engaging Follow-on “Snacks” (Sustenance)
  • (1) Feedback Dashboard to Measure “Diner” Response (Metrics)

Ownership. Failing to have a highly-communicative Chief Executive leading your initiative is like expecting a 3-Star Michelin rating from a fast-food cook. You must have high-level “buy-in” for your program to work. I’m not talking about the CISO, CRO, CIO or CTO here – that would just be preaching to the choir. The missing cook in awareness programs tends to be a security “believer” from the executive team. Successful security awareness programs are clearly led, repeatedly broadcast and constantly emphasized from the top of the organization, all with an attitude of authenticity and immediacy. Whether served up by your CEO at an annual gathering or by your Board of Directors to kick off National Cyber Security Awareness Month, your security champion must become an evangelist for defending your data.

Strategy. Don’t expect to randomly add security ingredients to the bowl and blindly hope they mix well together. You’ll just end up with curdled oatmeal. Approach your program strategically, and devise a recipe to protect your intellectual property, critical data and return on information assets. You are competing for resources, so build a compelling business case that demonstrates the organization’s ROI in business terms, not buried in techno-babble. What did it cost your competitor when ransomware froze their operation for a week? How much would the training have cost to avoid the CEO whaling scheme that lost a similar-sized company $47 million? What do the owners of  compliance, HR and I.T. have to add to the meal? The most successful security awareness programs have a budget, a staff (however small) and cross-departmental support. Involve the business team and other stakeholders up front to leverage their expertise before rollout.

Methodology. Here is a litmus test for the potential effectiveness of your security awareness program: Does it begin by focusing on the critical information assets and devices inside of your organization? If so, it’s probably doomed. Why? Because your employees are human beings and they want to know how this affects them personally before they willingly invest time to protect the corporate coffers. Excellent security awareness kicks off by making data protection personal – by building ownership before education. From there, the training must be engaging (dare I say fun!?) and interactive (live social-engineering) so that your audience members pay attention and apply what they learn. Death-By-PowerPoint slides will permanently put behavioral change to sleep. Highly-effective programs build a foundational security reflex (proactive skepticism), and are interesting enough to compete against cute puppy videos, smartphone farm games and our undying desire for a conference-room cat nap.

Sustenance. Best practice security awareness training, like a five-course meal, doesn’t end with the appetizer. Yes, kickoff is best achieved with a high-energy, personally relevant, in-person presentation that communicates the emotional and financial consequences of data loss. But that is only the beginning of the meal. From there, your team needs consistent, entertaining follow-up education to keep the fire alive. For example, we have found short, funny, casual video tips on the latest cyber threats to be highly effective. And lunch workshops on protecting personal devices. And incentive programs for safe behavior. And so on. Culture matures by feeding it consistently.

Measurement.If you don’t measure your progress (and actually demonstrate some), no one will fund next year’s dining budget. What are your Security Awareness Training KPIs, your key metrics? How did successful phishing attacks decline as a byproduct of your program? Has user awareness of threats, policy and solutions increased? How many employees showed up for the Cyber Security Awareness Month keynote and fair? How department-specific are your training modules – or does one size fit all? When you can show quantitative progress, you will have the backing to continue building your qualitative culture of security.

And now, back to the meal. In spite of the lemon juice that further curdled the cottage cheese and ruined my oats, I was still hungry, so I ended up choking them down, vowing to listen to my daughter next time. And I hope you will listen to me this time: Approach your security awareness program like you are planning a feast for guests who matter a great deal to you. Because your uneducated employees, unprotected customer data, and invaluable intellectual capital are exactly what cybercriminals are eating for breakfast.

What are the greatest gaps you see in Security Awareness Programs? Please share your brilliance below.


John Sileo loves his role as a keynote “energizer” for Cyber Security Awareness Programs. He specializes in making security fun, so that it sticks. His clients include the Pentagon, Schwab and some organizations so small (and security conscious) that you won’t have even heard of them. John has been featured on 60 Minutes, recently cooked meatballs with Rachel Ray and got started in cyber security when he lost everything, including his $2 million software business, to cybercrime.