I was never too comfortable having my credit card information stored by small and medium businesses.
Here is why: I thought to myself, what kind of information security measures and procedures would a small flower shop take to protect my information? Where are they storing my credit card info? How long do they store it for? Yes there is PIPEDA here in Ontario, but what if they are out of the country or in another province. How do I know they follow the guidelines? I don’t see anything on the website. These are questions I would probably never get the answers to – but I need to order flowers right?
A flower shop’s specialty is flowers, not IT right? The McAfee and GeoTrust badges they show on their website aren’t any comfort to me either. Reason being is it doesn’t speak to the human equation when it comes to information security. An employee can easily copy my number down over the phone or an employee could unwittingly download a piece of malware and their computer could become a mecca for credit card info to whomever controls that piece of malware.
Another situation I wasn’t too comfortable with was when I realized a popular bike rental service here in Toronto was storing my credit card info – I was allowed to log in to their website and edit my information. I can’t leave it blank, but luckily I could fill in random numbers.
In the case where you can’t fill in random numbers and are forced to enter a valid credit card, I recommend getting one of those pay per use credit cards and charge it up with $5. This way, if the online retailer were to be compromised, your credit can’t be affected because the hackers would have the wrong info and a credit card that’s not really tied to your name.
Small and medium businesses are low hanging fruit for anyone in a criminal enterprise. The majority of small and medium businesses don’t have to worry about state sponsored attacks because they have nothing to gain from them, unless its a small boutique shop offering designs in nuclear reactors. Small and medium businesses would have access to credit card and bank account information, which is what would attract many criminal enterprises.
It’s happened to many of us: Our computer no longer functions and it’s beyond our ability to fix it. But we won’t know what needs to be fixed until a computer repair technician takes a look at it.
Before you bring your computer into a repair shop, you need to be aware of the risks to your data stored on your computer:
When you are granting someone access to repair your computer, you are granting them full access to the information that’s stored on it. That means access to passwords, email, pictures, financial records and whatever else you save on your computer that you consider to be private and confidential.
This isn’t a theoretical case of a ‘what if situation’. This happens more often than we realize. A lawsuit was filed against Geek Squad claiming employees comb through personal files and sometimes COPY lewd or other content over to their own personal hard drives. Then there is the case of a Hong Kong movie star who brought in his computer for repair, only to have pictures of him and other Hong Kong actresses leaked to the Internet.
In order for any of this to be effective, you need to be doing items 2 to 5 before a problem with your computer arises.
Here are 5 things you can do to protect your privacy or at least be aware of before you send in your computer to repair:
- What is the policy if your confidential information is exposed as a result of brining the computer
- Will the store take all the necessary steps to make sure your privacy is maintained
2. Remove all of your private information off your computer before bringing it in for repair.
- This includes financial statements, receipts, browser settings, cached passwords, email, pictures, etc.
3. Store your private information on an external drive instead of the main hard drive.
4. Back up your data frequently.
- Always remember to frequently back up your data. If you have to bring your computer in for repair and you haven’t backed up your information, it might be too late.
5. Use encryption software to protect your personal information.
- Encryption software exists that allows you to encrypt portions of your hard drive to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information.
If you can’t trust the computer repair shop, then I recommend this as a final alternative:
Remove your hard drive before bringing it in for repair.
If your problem is not software related you should remove your hard drive. Computer repair shops should have spare hard drives in stock to test with. If your computer won’t turn on, it’s likely the problem isn’t related to the hard drive anyways.
I recently saw a post on Twitter where someone extolled their love for the password manager software they use. They also mentioned the information that was stored in it, the type of information that is the secret sauce to a person’s identity: user names, passwords and banking information.
While I think the use of password management software isn’t entirely a bad idea (as long as you have other defenses in place), I do believe it’s a bad idea announcing WHAT YOU USE to store the recipe for your secret sauce, particularly when it’s on a social networking website, for everyone to see. That’s akin to announcing to the whole world the name and model number of the safe I use at home, what’s stored inside and where it is. But I’m still using a safe, so I’m secure right? No!
Posting critical information like that to a social networking website will make you a likelier target for hackers. It will be easy for them to build a profile of people based on their blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts, then plan a social engineering attack. The attack may come in the form of gaining your trust, then sending you a malicious file for you to execute. A general search of 1Password or Keepass on Twitter, will show you lots of users who are using the software.
While the secret sauce maybe encrypted, if a computer is infected with a trojan horse that has key logging features, the encryption no longer protects you and it becomes a moot point. If you don’t keep your operating system up to date, use anti-virus and a firewall that just makes you even more susceptible to your secret sauce being revealed.
The other question to ask yourself is, where do you store this information? Is that encrypted file on a laptop or desktop? What if the laptop is lost or stolen? Hopefully there is a back up. And a back up of that back up.
Rule of thumb: The more information you reveal about your computer’s defenses, the more vulnerable you become.
What concerns me, is how easily this lack of knowledge is spread via Twitter, and it will give people who aren’t as technically savvy, the wrong idea. I can guarante a lot of people will try out the password manager but forget to do everything else, like update their browser, anti-virus, operating system and install a firewall. If that’s the case, they will have all their eggs in one basket, and be ripe for the picking.
Businesses big and small should consider running desktops on virtualized servers for employees that frequently travel.
One benefit of having a virtualized desktop, is that all important company data is stored in your environment and not on the laptop that the employee carries around.
That way, if the employee loses the laptop, they only lose the hardware, and no customer lists, addresses, phone number, social insurance numbers, credit card information etc. etc.
A woman had her laptop stolen from her while she was visiting a hospital in Toronto. She had over 1600+ images stored on her laptop of her daughter who had passed away a while ago. The police recovered the laptop but unfortunately the system was wiped clean.
Luckily a local data recovery service was able to retrieve her pictures for her, at no cost. Those services usually cost an arm and a leg just to get your data back.
Read more about why you should back up your data…