Protect yourself from cyber hackers, modern day pirates

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Hackers have stolen more than 500 million financial records in the past 12 months.(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto )

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Hackers have stolen more than 500 million financial records in the past 12 months. Wouldn’t you say it seems inevitable that we will all be victims of a hacker, the modern day pirate?

Whether they hack the databases of retailers like Staples and Target, online storage apps like Dropbox and iCloud, or social media apps like Snapchat, cyber pirates want your booty (i.e. personal and financial information).

So, what are the best strategies to evade exposure to hackers? Here are some easy tools and tips to drastically reduce the risk that you will get hacked:

Apple Pay and tokenization

Apple Pay went live Oct. 20 with the release of Apple’s iOS 8.1. This new version allows you to pay from your iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus using your thumbprint (to request and authorize the purchase) as well as a near field communication (NFC) chip installed inside the device.

Apple Pay doesn’t send your credit card number, its expiration date, that three-digit “security code” on the back of your card or your billing address — all information that allows pirate hackers to follow your tracks and intercept your personal information. Instead, Apple Pay uses a secure chip in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus that stores the credit card information as a different, unique code. For each purchase you make, a unique “token” is used to submit your payment details to the bank. When the bank receives the token, it then decrypts the token, authorizes the transaction and pays the vendor. That way the retailer doesn’t receive or transmit your credit card information. Plus, intercepting the token is useless to hackers because it only works once. The only people that have access to this information are you and your bank.

EMV chips in credit cards

Credit cards with the magnetic stripe on the back no longer provide enough security to keep your information safe. Other countries have implemented Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) chips in credit cards. Similar to Apple Pay, EMV chips, which are embedded in credit cards, create a one-time code for each purchase, thereby rendering any information gathered in a hacking attempt useless.

Unfortunately the adoption of this new standard has been slow to gain traction in the U.S. Forbes recently predicted that 70 percent of the cards in the U.S. will have chips by October 2015. However, President Obama signed an executive order last week to speed the adoption of EMV-standard cards in the U.S. Let’s cross our fingers that we’ll be safe sooner than we thought.

Avoid password exposure

Never underestimate the motivation of pirate hackers. If you don’t want your data or secrets exposed, don’t send them through the Internet, post them to social sites or store them in the cloud. And always make sure you use strong passwords.

You already know the basics on passwords. To remember them, I use the acronym MUST:

Minimum of eight characters

Upper and lowercase letters

Special characters

Tactic to remember your password for the site

Another key thing to remember when setting your passwords is to enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on the sites you use most frequently. 2FA makes sure you verify two of the following three things before access is granted: something you have (phone), something you know (PIN) and something unique only to you (thumbprint).

Consider using one of the many password protection software apps like LastPass, RoboForm and Dashlane to keep up with your passwords.

Still don’t trust technology? Go old school and use an address book to keep your passwords organized alphabetically and for your eyes only. Keep documents and images safe on an external hard drive. Then put both in your hidden treasure chest under lock and key.

Play it safe on the high seas — it’s common sense. Don’t trust a site just because it says it is secure or anonymous. It isn’t. Period. Use these tips to prevent pirates’ access to any potential treasure chests or skeletons in your personal sea of data.

Julie May is CEO of bytes of knowledge, providing comprehensive IT services, including network maintenance and Internet-based software development. Visit bytes of knowledge online at www.bytesofknowledge.com.

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