Let’s look back at 2014 to review events that could impact our information privacy. Some substantial vulnerabilities occurred this year including the Heartbleed bug, Shellshock, and POODLE, along with the usual Microsoft, Java, browser, and Adobe Flash and Reader problems. There have been some notable payment system breeches: Sony, Kmart, Jimmy Johns, Home Depot, Apple, Dairy Queen, Community Health Systems to name a few … even some Goodwill payment systems got hacked.
What can you do to protect yourself? Here are a couple things to do:
- Protect your information!
Don’t give it out unless it’s absolutely necessary. If your doctor—like mine did—asks you to sign a release so they can use your deidentified data in a study, ask them what information they are sending and who they are sending it to: Does it include your initials, your first name, your zip code, your street, your age and gender, your diagnosis, your treatment? If they frown at you and say it’s deidentified, ask them what that means to them.
According to HIPAA, there are 2 main methods to de-identify patient data, the “expert determination” method and the “safe harbor” method. The safe harbor method is usually safer because it removes 18 specific identifiers from the research data, such as name, age, dates must be year only, telephone numbers, address, full-face pictures, and account numbers. The expert method depends on an “expert” to determine what’s safe to disclose.
For instance, why do you care if someone shares your birth date? The birthday paradox is a probability theory that explains if you’re in a room with 23 other people, the chances that at least 2 people in the room will share a birthday is 50%, and in a group of 70 people, the probability that at least 2 of them will share a birthday reaches 99.9%. However, the probability that 2 people will share the same birth date is considerably smaller.
A recent article in American Medical News explained how Latanya Sweeney, PhD, a Harvard University researcher, was able to attach 241 identities to the deidentified medical information of a database of 1,130 research patients, using birth date, gender, and zip code combined with public records, such as US Census records or voter registration. That’s 22%! Yikes!
To see how identifiable you are by using those parameters, visit the Data Privacy Lab.
- Make your important passwords unique for each account, change them often—every six months or sooner, especially if the web site is hacked—and implement two-factor authentication on sites that allow it, especially sites like email, banking, or e-commerce.
What is two-factor authentication? Two-factor authentication means that instead of using just a password to access your account, you add an additional method of verifying your identity.
Google Authenticator is a way to add a second factor; it’s easy to use and it sends a code via a text message to your device. You can set it up so that you only have to input a code if a new device tries to use the account or your password changes. In case you don’t have an Internet connection or cell phone service, you can download a set of 10 codes for backup authentication. Make sure you keep these codes safe! I store mine right in KeePass.
- Back up your personal information on all your devices—documents, photos, music, videos.
- Lock your devices: Use PINs, passwords, puzzles, or biometrics.
- Install software like Find My Phone (Windows, Android, or iPhone) or Prey; if your device is lost or stolen, send it a lock and erase it. Be safe, call the police. Do not try to recover it yourself.
- Don’t save password information in your browser! Here’s an article on how to disable saving passwords in IE, Safari, and Firefox browsers, and Chrome.
Can’t remember all those passwords? Neither can I! You can use a password-protected Excel 2007 or later spreadsheet (do not save in compatibility mode), download a password manager like KeePass, or use a cloud-based password manager like LastPass.
Do not lose the master password! If you might forget, put it someplace safe like your safe-deposit box.
I have used all three options, and I prefer KeePass, although Excel is in some ways more convenient because you can decide on the fields you use. The data is stored on your device (unless you load it in the cloud yourself). I use KeePass’s professional and portable versions, and KeePass2Android. Try to only update the KeePass database on one device and copy it to your other devices so you don’t get confused as to which device contains the most up-to-date copy of the database. I date the database when I add a new account or change a password (BlahXX-XX-XXXX), so I know to move it to my other devices.
It is very important to back up this database and store a copy that you update regularly —as well as a printed copy—in your safe-deposit box.
LastPass is convenient, but I don’t like the idea of not knowing where my data is stored. Also, if the service is down—as happened last August for over 12 hours—can you access your accounts? According to their documentation, you should be able to. However, it is always best to keep a non-cloud-based back up for cloud-based services.
- Keep your operating system and applications up to date. When an operating system is no longer supported, it is time to either get the device off the Internet or—if the option is available—upgrade to a new operating system or download and install an open-source operating system. If none of those options work, wipe the device and recycle it here or at one of the Goodwill locations that partners with the Dell Reconnect program.
Spring clean your installed apps: if you don’t use it, uninstall it. Fewer apps will free up resources like memory and drive space, and your device might even run faster.
One application to consider installing on a Windows machine is Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector. It makes sure that all your updates and patches are current. I test a lot of software and some apps don’t always have automatic updates; this app is wonderful!
Everyone here at IntentionalPrivacy.com wishes you a prosperous, happy, healthy, and safe 2015! We’re happy you read us.