Important Reminders For Protecting Your Confidential Data

Recently, we’ve heard a tremendous amount of publicity about confidential or personal information accidentally lost or purposefully stolen. The Veterans Administration, the IRS, and Beaumont Hospital Home Care were all seriously affected. The latter case occurred when a nurse’s car was stolen and a business laptop was in the car, left in plain sight. How many people have been affected by the theft of their personal information? In the case concerning the VA, over 30,000 veterans of foreign conflicts; in the case of Beaumont Hospital Home care, over 28,000 people were affected. While we might think that we’d be happy if the IRS lost track of us, think again! Incidents such as this will result in more audits of individual and business tax returns. Whenever our personal information is stolen, we lose. How and why does this continue to happen? Couldn’t more care have been taken with personal information?

Everybody loses something at some point in time. Imagine purchasing a computer USB memory stick and finding a woman’s entire medical history, social security number, birthday, and other important personal documentation on it! She had returned it to a store because it was “defective.” Fortunately, for her, it came into the hands of an honest, responsible person and her confidential data was destroyed. This is a true account of what happened to a recent consumer. Fortunately, you can avoid these incidents when you only buy gadgets from among other reliable sources.

Astonishingly, things like this happen every day. In fact, in the first half of 2005 residents of London reported stolen over 5,000 laptops, 6,000 pocket PCs, and 63,000 mobile phones were lost, left behind in cabs. It’s impossible to count how many memory sticks, also called “jump drives,” have been lost in Britain. Imagine what this would be like in the United States! In 2001, as reported in Time Magazine, 519,000 laptops were lost or stolen. These numbers are staggering and considering what most people store on these pieces of hardware, truly frightening. Millions of dollars of lost proprietary information is out there in cyberspace somewhere. Everyday more information is lost because people are in a hurry and leave valuable information lying around in plain view. Devices are stolen because we are not carefully monitoring our surroundings or our bags, briefcases, purses, and laptop carriers. Information thieves often work the streets in pairs; while one distracts you, the other deftly nabs your electronic devices. The thieves -and your devices-are gone before you have a chance to even notice your loss.

How must we protect our confidential information? We need to make sure that we keep track of everything we have and that our laptops, pocket PCs, cell phones, and memory sticks are secured. When something is lost or stolen, then what should we do? There are effective ways to protect your information that’s stored on many of these devices.

The first step is to make sure that a password or security code is used to access laptops, pocket PCs and cell phones. Most information thieves will not spend the time trying to unlock them; they’re looking for the “easy steal.” If you use long and complex, but easily remembered passwords or security codes, this will slow them down considerably and probably even frustrate them enough to stop trying.

The second thing that you can do with most of these pieces of hardware is to encrypt the data with a secondary password that is not the same as your password to access the device. Encryption is an age-old method of making sure that information is secure. It may sound complicated, but it really is not. There are software solutions that solve this problem; you can install and use them very quickly. The great thing about these encryption solutions is that they protect our information even if it falls into the wrong hands.

If the woman who left personal data on the memory stick had encrypted her data, the likelihood of anyone getting to it would have been very slim. Keep your information safe; encrypt it even in your workplace. Keep your private matters, and those of others, safe.

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