Staff Columnist

Keeping up with digital security best practices

AARP Iowa survey respondents say hacking 'inevitable'

A shelf of used keyboards at the University of Iowa surplus building on S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City, Iowa. (Gazette Archives)
A shelf of used keyboards at the University of Iowa surplus building on S. Gilbert St. in Iowa City, Iowa. (Gazette Archives)

Results from an AARP Iowa survey reveal a shocking number of adults aren’t doing enough to protect themselves from digital fraud. Perhaps worst of all, many believe hacking and other data breaches are a foregone conclusion.

From the survey:

• About 55 percent of adults use the same password for more than one account.

• Only about 40 percent have online access to financial accounts.

• 71 percent failed a general quiz on digital security.

“Two-thirds of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred, they think it is inevitable that criminals will be able to exploit their credit at some point,” said Brad Anderson, director of AARP Iowa.

Having just spent the past few months first preparing to travel to Def Con, which is one of the world’s largest hacking conferences, and subsequently digesting information from the trip, I can completely relate to those who may feel overwhelmed. There are simply a lot of guidelines to remember, and policies are constantly changing as hackers become more savvy. And even when a consumer is doing everything “right,” bad things still can happen.

For that reason the state AARP, in conjunction with a national fraud awareness campaign, has issued some best practices intended to both guard against potential fraud and provide an early warning system. These include using separate and strong passwords (and password management software, if necessary), and keeping close watch on all existing financial accounts through online access. More can be found on the AARP website.

Most of this advice, I believe, is not only fairly basic, but similar to what people have been told repeatedly for several years. But the fact that we’re still repeating this advice because (as the AARP survey makes clear) many people aren’t following it means that either most people don’t care, believe someone else is responsible or will be responsible if the worst happens, or those offering advice aren’t clearly showing how to follow best practices.

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I want to focus, briefly, on the last possibility — that perhaps someone reading isn’t following advice because he or she can’t figure out how to do so consistently.

One thing I instituted about a year ago, and have ramped up in recent months, is assigning a specific date each month for personal housekeeping. On that date — I use 13, my birth date — I login to each of my financial accounts and review them for errors or anything unusual. For instance, I check the IP addresses of recent logins as well as recent transactions. If everything looks as it should, I update my password and move on to the next account. If something is amiss, which fortunately has not yet happened, I would contact the financial institution and have the account frozen.

Once I’ve gone through the accounts, I pull my credit report and check it in the same way. Non-financial accounts follow.

While nothing will completely safeguard my accounts, earmarking a day each month for review has allowed me to prioritize best practices and keep my personal information and money as safe as possible.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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