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How Can You Protect Your Personal Information?

Stuart Gentry, Alumnus

A while back, I attended a medical appointment required for discharging from the military. At the appointment the receptionist asked me to fill out paperwork for the doctor’s review, which included providing my social security number. It seems most people would not think twice about providing this personal information. In fact, in my experience, some people will very willingly spell it out on paper or tell the requestor in a loud enough voice for someone else to hear. In this post, I would like to cover some of the ways we divulge personal information without really thinking about it.

Do you willingly give out your social security number? I am very cautious giving any kind of personal information. I have been the victim of someone using a credit card they obtained via my social security number and charging a few thousand dollars, which took me some time to clear up. At my appointment I kindly asked the receptionist why she needed the number. She was a bit shocked I asked, but kindly went about confirming and found out that she did not require it. At this point, she and the others in the office were talking with me about security and asking questions.

I have a job that takes me to the airport occasionally, and it amazes me how some people talk about business matters on their phone so loudly. I wonder if they think about what they could be divulging about their business. For example, about how they are bidding a project. Perhaps they feel no one is paying attention. Yet, there may be ears listening in, gathering information. For this reason, I recommend they consider somewhere more private or lowering their voice and being aware of what they are saying in the airport.

How much do you think about security?

This next example happens frequently…How often do you go to a store or restaurant and use your debit or credit card? Do you put “See ID” on the back for the clerk to check your identification? I have had some clerks check, but the majority swipe without looking. In some situations, the merchant does not require a PIN code. As for a credit card, you can sign the cardholder’s name without the cashier knowing how the cardholder signs their name. When my identity was stolen, I saw how the signature on the receipt did not match mine.

Facebook is another situation where many people unintentionally give away information by not locking down their account. To see for yourself, do a Google search on people you know and watch their Facebook accounts appear. Then, click on the accounts to see what information you can gather and how detrimental it can be. For example, if someone is going out of town for the weekend, it’s a good time for a robbery. Someone may list their favorite hobbies, which is great phishing email material. If someone posts they hate their boss or their job, a current or future employer can see this.

Another consideration is when you are ordering or providing private information online. Ensure the URL starts with HTTPS, which means it is a secure connection. Nothing is 100% secure, but this helps mitigate the possibility of losing any of that data. Similarly, if you come across an HTTPS connection where there is a question about the security certificate, stop and ensure your computer is not compromised. Check that your anti-virus is up to date and run a scan. If you still have problems after the scan and computer reboot, run a scan with an anti-malware product such as Malware Bytes.

So, if you’re into security, how deep are you? Do you think about or question situations like the examples above? People love technology and use it every day, but most do so without thinking twice about what they are revealing online, on the phone, in a store, etc.

Learn more about Regis University’s master's degree in information assurance and the Graduate Certificate in Information Assurance.