Financial Planning Focus - How to Protect Your Data at Home

February 28, 2017
By Dana Tomisek

At West Financial Services, protecting your personal information is of paramount concern for us. We have a dedicated Information Security department that has the resources and expertise to safeguard your financial data. Understandably, that level of security is not likely available to you at home, but there are steps you can take to better protect your personal information. Installing and maintaining the right anti-virus software to monitor your system, avoiding phishing emails, and selecting strong passwords are some of the ways to build better data protection for yourself.

What is anti-virus software?
Anti-virus software is designed to prevent malicious software from accessing your computer. If malicious software gains access to your machine, the anti-virus software will search for, locate, and remove any viruses it finds. Many internet service providers (ISP) offer free anti-virus software as a part of your subscription. Contacting your individual ISP to see if they offer a viable option for you is a good place to start. Some popular anti-virus software to consider are Norton, McAfee, Trend, and Webroot SecureAnywhere, just to name a few of the many available options. PCMag.com reviewed the Webroot SecureAnywhere in 2016 and reported, “Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus remains the smallest, fastest antivirus around, and it aced our hands-on malware blocking test.” Webroot SecureAnywhere costs approximately $40/ year. Any anti-virus software you choose should be kept current and have time/schedules to perform regular scans of your computer.

What is a phishing email?
Phishing emails are attempts by scammers to gain personal information from you while typically portraying themselves as someone else. For example, you may receive an email from Citibank stating that your account has been compromised and you must click a particular link in the email to reset your credentials. If a scammer has sent the email, that link will not direct you to an actual Citibank website but rather an outside site that looks just like the Citibank site you are used to. This is where the scammer can retrieve your log-in credentials and gain access to your account. Instead of clicking on the link in the email, hover over and review the link to ensure it is an actual Citibank site, or open a separate browser and go directly to the company’s website to investigate. If you are ever concerned or question the origination of an email, call and speak with a representative of the company directly.

What makes a good password?
At a Charles Schwab cybersecurity conference last year, I had the opportunity to listen to Craig Watanabe, a senior compliance consultant for a firm in Los Angeles speak about security of personal data for clients. According to the speaker, 70% of all data breaches of personal information are made through a compromised user. A compromised user could be someone who clicked on a phishing email or someone who has a weak password. Setting a strong password for your accounts is an easy but important part of the protection process. The speaker also noted that a simple 8 character password can take a hacker, with the right equipment, less than 20 minutes to crack. Making your password 12 characters instead takes a hacker up to 3 weeks to crack. An example of a good password would be a phrase password. Create a phrase, such as “I grew up in the country with 6 dogs and 4 cats.” Now use the first letter of each word to create the bones of your password: IGUITCW6DA4C. Adding special characters, perhaps in place of one of the numbers, and a mixture of upper and lower case characters, further increases the complexity of your password: IgUiTcW6Da$c.

Creating separation between types of data.
I was able to see Kevin Mitnick, who at one time was on the FBI’s most wanted list as the “World’s Most Wanted Hacker,” present at a cybersecurity event a few months ago. One of his simple suggestions for protecting personal data was to keep a separate tablet for accessing all of your financial data and nothing else. This limits the information that is being accessed on the tablet and reduces the likelihood of a data breach. No email or other web browsing should be allowed on this separate device.

Is your Wi-Fi protected?
Lastly, a simple check you can do at home is to ensure your Wi-Fi (wireless internet) connection is encrypted. Unencrypted networks are more vulnerable and accessible by individuals outside of your home. If you are not sure how to check this, your ISP should be able to help.