Like most professionals, I have taken countless courses on data privacy and computer security. After a while, the online courses and training scenarios all end up sounding the same. In 2017, the size and scope of technology breaches has increased and at the same time we are learning that our financial and private data is being compromised in more places than we can count. From our local store at the mall, to our financial institutions, the reality is that technology is making everyone a target. By news accounts, you can’t trust anyone. Your bank, your healthcare insurance, your webmail provider, the IRS, your payroll provider, have all been compromised and this all before we even learned about the Equifax breach. Target is a good example of a company that invests heavily in technology and implemented security protocols better than most companies, however they still became a victim and were compromised. The reality is that security is not ever going to be easy. The best way to implement security is by using a layered approach, with multiple levels of restrictions. Secure your network, secure your devices, secure your software with updates, use strong passwords, and backup your data in multiple ways. This becomes a lot of work for individuals. The frustration is that even if you do everything right, you are still going to be compromised. The best possible outcome is that you will not be an easy target and that you limited what was taken from you.
CCleaner is one of my trusted utilities, on Windows computers. I use it quite often and install it on all of my Windows machines. Recently, their security was compromised and malware was added to their installer. Reading carefully through all the reports, I determined that on two machines the version had not been updated and multiple scans by different anti-virus tools came up clean. On a third machine, a laptop, the machine had been compromised. On this particular computer, I did not have any real data that was of importance, and this was the laptop that I had setup with a custom Windows setup that allows me to restore Windows to a fresh state. This allowed me to restore the machine in less than an hour and I no longer had to worry about malware on that computer.
However, this was a wake up call in regards to my other machines. I need to implement a similar setup for my other computers. There needs to be a strategy for my home Windows Server, my kids computers, and what about my Mac computers? This all came about because I trusted an application that I have been using for years.
For the most part, I have not had to worry too much about the Apple ecosystem, when it comes to iOS. Apple has been pretty good about keeping malware out of the App Store, not perfect by any means, but good. All I have had to do is keep iOS updated with the latest version that is available for the device and not install too many third party apps. I also keep an iTunes backup for my iPhone and iPad. I do not put too much faith in the cloud, so my iCloud data is pretty slim.
There are not any Android devices in my home. We are pretty much Apple, Windows, and Linux. My criticism of Android is that there are way too many exploits and security compromises when it comes to the platform. The devices are not updated very often and prior Android versions are very vulnerable to all types of attacks. This is an area where Apple has managed to do better due to the faster upgrade cycle and walled garden that is the App Store. My best advice for Android users is the same as iOS users: upgrade your OS and do not install too many third party apps.
I do not use Linux as a desktop, so my concerns with Linux is typically with servers. Linux is becoming a bigger target these days. Part of the problem is that Linux is a collection of software that is patched together from multiple sources. These sources are all vulnerable. The other issue with Linux in general is that it requires a certain level of admin expertise, which is different from most consumer software. For Linux, I keep a backup of an original setup, so if I misconfigure or break something, I can restore to that setup. For the data, I backup separately and keep multiple copies of that. Scanning tools for Linux tend to be free, but there are commercial versions which you can purchase. If you are using Linux for business purposes, Redhat is highly recommended.
Facebook, Amazon, & Clouds
I find it hard to reconcile individual security and Facebook usage. To me the more you use Facebook, the bigger a target you become. I see people updating their Facebook account with their physical location all the time. This is great information to have, if you are a thief and want to break into someone’s house. The problem with Facebook, Amazon, and cloud platforms like iCloud is that these services communicate with your mobile phone and the data that they send back and forth is very susceptible to being breached. Your phone is literally a beacon that keeps signaling all the time. You can prevent some of this by turning off Bluetooth, Wireless, and not installing third party apps, however for everything you turn off or disable, the phone becomes less connected, less functional. A must have is some sort of VPN, that you can enable when connecting to free wireless networks.
There really is not a good way to be private or have layered security when it comes to the mobile phone. The phone is a beacon at this point, and you are the target.
Since the Equifax breach, I have been reading about what possible avenues people have to protect themselves, now that everyone is compromised, and the only advice that I found that seemed plausible was to change your name. It is possible to legally change your name and to escape some of the repercussions of the Equifax breach. Unfortunately it has come to this.