Online Account Protection

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

source: James Lee

Whether you use the Internet primarily for keeping in touch with friends and family through e-mail and chat services, or you’re an Internet junkie who spends hours on various blogs, websites and social media networks, chances are you have more than a few accounts and passwords to keep track of.

Even the simplest of account information from websites and online services can be used against you if it falls into the wrong hands. Here’s a guide to protecting your identity online and what to do in case your information is ever leaked.

The Basics

Choose your username wisely.

Though easier to remember, reusing the same username over and over again can actually work against you. As a February 2011 article in the CBC News pointed out, using the same username over various websites gives marketers – and potentially, scammers – a great way to target you. Information that can be gleaned just from your username include your browsing habits, your interests, and even your family members if your username links to a social networking profile.

Choose a strong password.

A strong password is one of your first lines of defense when it comes to keeping your information safe. When creating a password, you should always choose something that is easy for you to remember but hard for other people to guess.

Avoid using your username, name (first or last), names of family or pets and dictionary words. A strong password is at least 6 characters long and includes mixed case, alphanumeric characters and special symbols. An example of a weak password could be ‘bubble’ but a stronger password might be ‘bUbblE88!’

Change your password regularly.

Changing your password regularly is a key way to keep your account information safe. Set a calendar reminder to change your passwords every 90 days, at minimum.

Check encryption.

Before entering sensitive information like a credit card, bank account or social security number, always check the encryption on the site. The URL in the field should always start with https:// which means the browser is using a secured protocol to encrypt and transmit your data. Furthermore, there should be a lock icon at the corner of your browser screen that confirms that the site is secure.

Beware of phishing.

Phishing is a way to try to obtain sensitive information from the you by pretending to be a legitimate company. For instance, you may receive an unsolicited email warning that one of your accounts may have been breeched and the company needs you to validate your credentials.

Be wary of unsolicited email “warnings” and do not click any links that may be embedded in the email. When in doubt, contact the company directly through a trusted URL or phone number.

Be careful what information you reveal and who you reveal it to.

This goes for account information as well as personal information. Chances are you’ve probably seen one of those “getting to know you” surveys where you fill out information like your favorite hobbies and other things about your life, probably via forwarded email, blog meme, or social networking survey.

Have you ever noticed that some of these questions sound eerily familiar to account challenge questions in case you’ve lost your password? Though fun and well meaning, the answers on these surveys can easily be used by a savvy hacker to reset your password and access your account.


Online Purchase Protection

I love online shopping – in fact, I think I love it even more than I do shopping at a brick and mortar store. But online shopping can be dangerous, not just to your wallet but to your credit score if your bank or credit card information is ever compromised. Whenever shopping online, either with a store or an online subscription service, take these key steps to help ensure you are the only one purchasing on your account.

Use a low-limit card

Some credit card companies allow you to create low-limit virtual credit cards through their website, specifically for online purchases. These are great for online transactions because they allow you to have the freedom of purchasing online with the security of a credit card and without the fear of someone maxing out your credit card without your authorization.

Purchase vendor specific voucher cards

Stores like Wal Mart and Target sell gift cards that allow you to load money for online services like iTunes or Xbox Live. These not only let you better control spending but also eliminate the need to fund from a source like a credit card.

Never link your bank account to online purchases.

Last summer a number of iTunes users were hacked and some accounts had hundreds and even thousands of dollars worth of iTunes app store purchases charged onto their accounts. As you can probably imagine, people that had their bank account debit cards linked to their iTunes accounts found themselves in a tight financial pinch.


If Your Information Has Been Stolen

One of the scariest realities of doing anything online is that despite following all of these basic security measures, your account information can still fall into the hands of hackers. On April 26, 2011, Sony announced that hackers had gotten into their systems and had stolen customers’ personal information. At the time, they could not confirm whether or not credit card information had been stolen as well but cautioned users to take the necessary precautions.

Sony Playstation Network

I was none too happy when I realized that our account was one of the possibly millions of accounts that had been compromised. For anyone else affected by the Sony Playstation Network issue, as of April 29th at noon Pacific Time, Sony’s site is still down with no word from Sony when it will be reactivated. When it comes back online, I suggest logging in to PSN and changing your account password and deauthorizing any stored financial information.

In General

Cancel any payment options that are currently linked to your account. As soon as you hear about a possible security breech, double-check your payment method and cancel any cards that may be linked to it.

Change your password as soon as possible. Login to the site and change your password.

Watch your credit report closely. When information has been compromised, there’s no way of telling who has it, when they may use it or what they may use it for. Obtain a copy of your credit report and, if possible, monitor it regularly to ensure that no one has tried to steal your identity.

Have any of your accounts been hacked? Do you have any stories or tips about information theft? Share in the comments!

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.