Smart devices make you and your company an easy target for identity theft.
Smart devices make you and your company an easy target for identity theft.

With 22,918,441 data records stolen in the U.S. in 2011, identity theft has reached an all time high. Roughly 16% of those were subcontractors. It’s worth noting that Verizon’s 2011 data breach investigation report states that 96% of the breaches were avoidable thorough simple or intermediate controls. Why not make this your most secure year? You can take some fairly simple precautions to protect yourself and your business from dumpster divers, hacksters and the almighty con.

Although the old rules for your personal security still apply, new technology dictates additional precautions you can implement fairly simply. Be sure all of your devices are protected—your computer as well as your smartphone and tablet.

Your social security number is the single most important piece of data to protect; much harm can be done when it is stolen. Keep your social security number very private, don’t use debit cards (they make your money immediately accessible and therefore more difficult to recover), use strong passwords, and load antivirus and anti-spyware programs on your computers. I found out my identity had been stolen because the perpetrator only had my birth month and year and had guessed the day wrong—which flagged the credit card company that called me to verify. This points to the importance of not giving out your full birth date.

Whereas identity theft and business fraud used to be separate crimes, the proliferation of smart phones has changed the landscape and morphed the two security issues together. Smart phones contain sensitive personal information. Business information also is often accessible through a smart phone. Some phones can even connect directly to corporate servers, and banking and employee records. Tablets aren’t immune. An iPad has as much or maybe more information than a laptop—but is it as secure? Be sure all of your devices are protected with a screen lock and a strong password.

It’s unfortunate that so many people still think of mobile devices simply as phones. A thief with access to your mobile device might as well take your work computer and network server and plug it in at his home to violate at his or her leisure. Contractors have even more problems than the average user. Is your proprietary bid data at risk from a smart phone or tablet? Can someone get in and change, steal, or delete your electronic drawings?

Securing your data

The first step to securing your mobile device is to use a lock code. Go to your settings/security to set up a screen lock. On a droid you can choose to use a pin, a password, or draw a pattern. Whatever code you use, take the time to create one that is not obvious. Everyone should be doing this. The inconvenience of dealing with your lock code doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when compared to what you’ll have to go through to reverse identity theft or fraud. It took me 2 years to regain my identity.

Many phones that connect to corporate servers can be wiped clean by the server if the phone goes missing. Is this enabled on your device? The Apple devices and some others give you the option of more than a 4 number password. You can even set it to wipe your device if you have 10 wrong password tries.

Passwords have become a major problem. With so many different accounts, many people use the same password for various things—a big mistake.