By Katrice L. Mines, Editor
When I first started to hear bytes of news in passing and via social media about the Target data breach, I brushed it off thinking — I’ve heard similar stories before and it doesn’t involve me. Usually, I’d read about cyber attacks, feeling utterly removed. Every few days, however, there was more information. I listened, still ruling myself out as being affected until dates were mentioned; mid-November through mid-December 2013. I had shopped then and had used my Target Redcard. And now reports were emerging that hackers had retrieved not just credit card data from Target’s systems, but encrypted Pin numbers from debit cards and other personal information compromised — name, address, phone number and/or email address. I stopped what I was doing and began searching stories for the number to call at the Target Corporation. I hadn’t received a letter in the mail from Target in the month-long span since the news had initially broke but that wasn’t enough to quell my concerns that I wasn’t, in fact, involved. My letter arrived a week or so later.
It was my introduction to the very real fear of identity fraud. I’m always online. Sometimes, I joke with friends that I don’t live a virtual fantasy life, but that lighthearted comment is now beginning to be more serious. I actually conduct business online and am more concerned than ever about my … well, virtual safety and security.
In February, Attorney General Eric Holder called on Congress to require companies to more quickly alert customers when their personal information is put at risk in cyberbreaches. There are no federal mandates requiring corps to notify customers following breaches, though some states have notification laws. Moreover, the measures being encouraged are intervention-focused. So what should be doing to shield ourselves and our information?
First, know the risks. Cyber security, phishing, worms, firewalls, Trojan horses, hackers, and viruses — in the news every day — are now a fact of life. It’s easy to identify people who could gain physical access to our computers, but identifying who could gain remote access could be like finding a needle in a haystack. As long as your computer is connected to a network or the internet, you are vulnerable to someone or something else accessing or corrupting your information. But, there are ways to fortify your system’s security and to be vigilant in protecting yourself while online and doing business electronically at home and abroad; vigilance being the key word.