What I Did To Protect My Credit Card Information from a Small or Medium Business


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.

Anonymous Asked: How Much Information Do You Share On LinkedIn


A securityphile reader recently submitted a question regarding LinkedIn and I thought I would share it with the rest of the readers:

“I’d created a Linkedin profile a year ago, but now I feel that the information on that site is just *too* much. Do you agree? I’m in the process of deleting every detail that I wrote about myself on that site… and just wanted to know your thoughts on the uses/potential for misuses of that site.”

Our anonymous reader agreed to let me post the question and response so that other readers can benefit from she learned.

My recommendation is to limit the amount of information you place on LinkedIn. By default, LinkedIn makes your profile available to search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo. You can turn this feature off.

I would only enter the name of your employer and your position, nothing more into LinkedIn. No details about accomplishments, projects etc (you could be breaking confidentiality clauses you might not be aware of either you or your employer are liable for).

The more information you provide, the easier it is someone can build a profile of you. Since it’s the Internet, you have no control who can view your information. It’s easy to create a fake profile on any social networking site, people can use that fake profile to monitor you.

If someone is legitimately interested in contacting you regarding your experience, they can contact you further (make that known on LinkedIn).


Potential misuses could lead to identity theft, fraud or plain theft.

Depending on your employer and your position, you could be targeted by hackers (who may be employed by hostile governments etc.) who try to make you install software on your computer at work. If someone can see who you use to work with in the past, they could potentially pose as that person therefore gaining your trust.

It’s all about risk and the likelihood that that situation happens. If you are an administrative assistant to a high level executive in the auto industry or Canadian government, you could be a target. Those industries contain secrets and intellectual property that other countries may find very valuable. If you were the financial controller of a small business, you might be targeted because you have online access to your business’s bank accounts. If you are a receptionist at a high school, its unlikely a hostile government would try to hack you, but maybe one of the students might target you.

Threats to personal safety

If you have run away from an abusive husband and he has hired a private investigator to find you, one of the places he might look is LinkedIn. LinkedIn gives away information about location and name of employer. Your information may be unnecessarily exposed.

If someone was trying to steal your identity, they could call up one of your previous employers and pretend to be a new employer doing a background reference check. Depending on the person that is asked, they may unknowingly give up personal information about you. While you might not share such information, you can’t vouch for what another would do in the situation.



Why The iPhone Tracking Issue Is More Hype Than Threat

Here is my two cents on Apple Gate, (the iPhone tracking issue), and why I believe its a red herring. It’s not a threat to your privacy based on the other research I have found.

First off, privacy has been a hot topic for the last year. Everyone is learning the lessons they faced with Facebook and are rightfully concerned. Also, reports of other companies, most recently Sony getting hacked, losing customer data is also getting more attention. So its understandable everyone is a little edgy when it comes to privacy.

Second, this is the opportune time for fans of BlackBerry and Android to take swipes at Apple. Unbeknownst to many people though, Android, BlackBerry and Microsoft all collect location information much like Apple did.

It’s likely this is the result of bad design or a bug, I’m guessing in the next version of iOS the location data might be encrypted and further buried again (security through obscurity). This information has actually been available before the blog post by Pete Warden last week.

I’m guessing the fact they store the entire history of your location is a bug. The fact that after disabling ‘Location Services’, your location continues to be logged sounds like a bug – and nothing more.

Let’s not forget that Apple is still trying to make an entry into social networking and using location based services would be an ideal way to jump in. The market for location based services is still relatively new, Foursquare is definitely leading the pack in that area, however there is still no clear market leader. I’m guessing Apple wants to dominate here.

Apple has testified previously to US Congress about collecting location data and they’ve indicated the data is anonymized. We’ll just have to wait and see when Apple responds.

Update, April 27, 2011: Apple has just confirmed it’s a bug, among many other details released in this Q&A

Guest Post on With Love… “Are You Sharing Too Much Online”


My guest post about “Sharing Too Much Online” is up on With Love… I was honoured that Marta asked me to write this piece for her readers. I thought it was a great opportunity to cross over into the world of fashion blogs and hopefully share my knowledge about online safety with the fashion community. I was glad to see from the comments, quite a few people enjoyed the article and found the information valuable.

If you are interested in having me write a guest post for your blog, please don’t hesitate to let me know.


5 Things to remember before bringing your computer in for repair


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:

1. Does a privacy policy exist at the computer repair store?

  • 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.

Don’t Announce On The Internet Where The Recipe to Your Secret Sauce Can Be Found


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.


How To: Find Out If Your Facebook Account Is Accessed By Someone Other Than You


I’m not really big a fan of Facebook. The public display of their eroding privacy policies have left me with a bad taste that only enforces my general mistrust of corporations.

Since many people either don’t feel that way or are just completely unaware of what is happening with Facebook, I still feel the need to discuss security or privacy issues that affect it.

Within Facebook, there is a new option for you to enable ‘Account Security’. I recommend that you enable it immediately if you use Facebook. The feature allows you to be notified when your account is accessed from a computer that has not been registered. While its not a bulletproof measure, its a step in the right direction.

You will need to log in and log out of Facebook after you enable the feature so that you can register your device, be it smart phone, laptop, etc. When you access ‘Account Security’ you will see a list of registered computers.

It’s likely this feature came about after a Facebook board member fell victim to a phishing attempt.

Take note that, if your email account uses the same password as your Facebook account, then the hacker accessing your account can delete the email out of your inbox before it gets to you. Another good reason to use different passwords.


Facebook Account Security

U.S. Outlines Strategy for Nation Wide Identity Management System


The proposed identity management system would allow citizens of the United States to use two-factor authentication methods when shopping online or accessing private information such as health or banking records.

The reasoning behind creating such a system is to battle the increase in online crime. By implementing this method to verify people, corporations can decrease the chances of fraud.

However, this very same system could also be used as a ‘real name registration’ system, similar to those already in place in countries like China or South Korea. While this may not happen in western countries any time soon, I can see some over zealous politician propose the idea in the name of protection and security of the citizens. Anonymity would be a thing of the past if that were to happen.

This is actually a reality in countries like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabians are required to request permission and acquire a license from a government agency before they can blog. Not only that, Saudi Arabia has already reached a deal with mobile phone manufacturer Research In Motion so that it can access messages sent over BBM. Normally those messages are encrypted, but in order for RIM to operate in Saudi Arabia and India, they must allow the government complete access to private messages sent by citizens using BBM.

It’s a threat to freedom of expression and anonymity.

It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Stalked Using Foursquare


Stalking using FourSquare was inevitable with its rise in popularity in social networking. I’m not condoning stalking, but anyone who has half a brain can see the negative possibilities of using such services.

Some people realize the dangers of it and some don’t. Only when someone’s safety is jeopardized do people start to listen and think about the consequences.

The privacy and safety of users must be the primary objective of any service that offers social networking capabilities. We’ve all seen the backlash that Facebook has faced after it chose the opt-in strategy regarding its users and their personal, private data.

Blizzard, Maker of WoW, StarCraft Backs Down on Real Name Registration


Interesting to see the maker of popular games World of Warcraft and Starcraft wanted to implement a system that uses only real names, but after listening to their customers they have decided to modify their plans.

Aliases and pseudonyms have always been a part of gamer culture even before the Internet became popular.

It’s interesting that a gaming company would want to move in the direction of requiring users to use their real names for their applications, which is very similar to what the Chinese and South Korean governments have implemented.

Go to Top