12 Everyday Things That Pose Huge Security Risks
Unfortunately, in today’s super-connected world, your personal information is at a higher risk than ever. But just tweaking some of your simple habits can make you less likely to be scammed or even robbed.
Home security signs
Home security signs are a strange beast. In a perfect world, they’d do exactly what they’re supposed to do—make burglars think twice before picking your house to rob. And sometimes they do, especially when it’s a less experienced, more spur-of-the-moment criminal. But not every burglar is like that. “Some smart criminals know how to tamper with and disarm security systems, so telling them the exact company [you have] can actually make them more informed,” warns Gabe Turner, Director of Content at Security Baron. A potential solution he offers is to get a sign—but for a system other than the one you have. That’s just one of the little things you can do to outsmart a burglar.
Charging your devices at charging stations
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“Recently, charging stations have expanded more and more into the public sphere,” Turner told Reader’s Digest. And that’s not surprising—people constantly have their phones and other devices on them and are happy to have a convenient spot to charge them up. What is surprising, though, is the security risk these public stations can pose. “Many people don’t know that when you connect your phone to a USB port, not only are you charging your phone but you’re also transferring data, which transmits over a USB port,” Turner says. So beware—when you’re plugging your phone into one of those stations, there’s really no way to know who can then see the information on it.
Public WiFi networks
Public WiFi is very convenient, especially while traveling. But the convenience of hopping on a Wifi network wherever you are does come with a price. “Using public WiFi is a great way to save on your data plan when out and about, but it’s far from secure,” explains Alec Ogden, marketing executive and cybersecurity expert at Bob’s Business. “Unlike your network at home, public WiFi is unsecured and anyone with the right know-how can snoop on your activity.” You don’t need to swear off public WiFi completely, but be mindful of what you’re doing on it (don’t share any personal information, like a banking number or an SSN!) and consider downloading a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which boosts your online privacy. Learn more about the potential dangers of using public WiFi and what you should do.
Smart home devices
Amazon Alexa and her smart-device friends are all the rage right now. With just a word, you can play music, turn your lights on and off, and Google any question. But there are cons in addition to the pros, and they have to do with security. “Consumers are often entirely unaware of how much their smart devices know about them, or the inherent privacy and security risks,” says Chris Morales, Head of Security Analytics at Vectra. “Smart speaker hub devices like Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home Hub are always listening to identify the codeword that will activate them.” It might sound like something out of a horror story, an artificial intelligence device that’s “always listening,” but the truth of the matter is that “it has become common practice for smart home devices to record data about their [users]…and transmit it for analysis.” Here’s exactly what Amazon Alexa users need to know about the privacy risks of the device.
Using lots of apps
Apps are another thing that are ingrained in our daily lives as digital consumers—that can pose a security risk. And when you think about it, it does make sense. Think about how often you just automatically click the permissions request, allowing app after app access to your camera, your contacts, and more. The apps that have that information might be sharing it with third parties, so you might want to take a closer look at that permission information to see what information they’re getting and what they’re doing with it. The greater the number of apps that have your information, the more vulnerable that information could be in the event of a data breach, or just in general. “The more apps you use, the greater the potential attack surface on your mobile device,” warns Ken Underhill, Master Instructor at Cybrary. “Only download apps from reputable sources and still be wary of any app requesting more information than it actually needs to function.”
Using security cameras
It’s another technological safety measure that has a dark side. They’re meant to keep you safe, but unfortunately, you may not be the only one who’s watching them. “Connected security cameras, baby monitors, doorbells, and countless other products have been discovered that contain vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to take over those devices to monitor your home,” says Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.com. “Under the worst circumstances, hackers could use the devices you use to secure your home to ascertain when it is best to burgle you.” You can protect yourself by making sure the devices you purchase come from reputable manufacturers and make sure they’re as up-to-date as possible and are protected by a strong password. You should take these precautions with any of these devices in your home that could spy on you.
Speaking of strong passwords, there’s a good chance your passwords are not nearly secure enough—and it’s costing you. “Bad password habits are behind a huge proportion of security threats online,” Ogden says. And it’s not just weak, hackable passwords; we’re willing to bet you use the same one or two passwords, with little to no variation, over and over again for every site you log into. “Needless to say, that’s a mistake,” Ogden warns. “A single breach on any website you’ve ever used could reveal the login details for every other website, revealing information like bank details along the way.”
Clicking on email links
If you’re generally concerned about online security, this is probably a tip you’ve come across before, but it’s worth reinforcing. One of the most common ways hackers acquire your information is by sending you an email, often from what looks like a legitimate, trusted sender—a delightful technique called phishing. The email contains a link that takes you to a dangerous website that can give you a virus, or asks for your login information (which it then uses to hack you). For this reason, be careful about clicking on any link from an email that looks a little “off.” An email that comes from a company that you have an account with, but with an impersonal greeting like “Hello” or “Dear Customer” rather than your name, is one of several red flags you’re about to fall for a phishing scam.
“Do not click on links you receive from strangers,” suggests Miguel A. Suro, a Miami attorney and lifestyle journalist at The Rich Miser. And it’s not just strangers; the email could even be coming from a friend or family member, rather than a business, but they themselves could’ve been hacked. “Also, beware of links (from any source) that look suspicious, point to unknown websites, or have seemingly random letters or numbers in them,” Suro continues. Even if the email appears to be legitimate, you can take precautions like holding your mouse over the link to see where it’s actually taking you to.
Not wiping old devices
When you switch out one phone for a new one, it’s probably out of sight, out of mind for the old one. But according to Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech, “we’ve found [that] many used devices sold on marketplaces like eBay still contain a wealth of private information from previous owners.” His advice to prevent your info from falling into the wrong hands? “When you sell or discard an old or broken device, be sure to thoroughly wipe it or destroy it.”
Using an outdated web browser
It’s frustrating to constantly (or so it might seem) be “updating” your Internet browsers to the latest version, but there are risks to not doing so (in addition to just having slower, less current Internet). “Browsing the Internet is something everyone does on a daily basis. However, doing so with an out-of-date browser could put you in a dangerous position,” explains Josh Tomkiel, Threat & Vulnerability Assessment Manager of Schellman & Company. The same goes for security software, which usually comes out to combat, or as a response to, hacks or breaches. This is why you really shouldn’t be ignoring security update warnings on your computer.