Sometimes the things you throw away are more important than the things you keep. You’ve probably heard about the concept in discussions about saving the environment, but you should also be aware of it when it comes to preserving your data security. Here are four things to know about keeping data secure.
Stop giving data away
The first thing to keep in mind is that the biggest source data thieves and identity thieves have for gaining access to data is their victims. People give away all kinds of information that can be used against them, mainly through social media, blogs, and other internet sites.
A writer for Scientific American proved just how easily he could get access to someone’s bank accounts, using nothing more than information his test subject provided online, in this article. He didn’t even need any special computer-related knowledge to succeed and it took almost no time at all.
The rule of thumb to remember is that you should never volunteer any information online that you would not hand to a known identity thief. Cyber-criminals have one thing in common with any traditional business: They can make a lot of money by doing a volume business, targeting a lot of small bank accounts.
Stop throwing important papers in the trash
If you’ve ever seen detective shows or mystery movies, particularly the “police drama” type, you have probably seen detectives rooting around in a suspect’s garbage in pursuit of evidence. That’s not just drama. It really happens, and the people digging in your trash are not likely to be cops.
The lesson here is simple: Never let a scrap of paper enter your trash or recycling bin without passing through a cross-cut shredder first. That means receipts, junk mail, business letters, old bank statements, and credit card offers, along with anything else that contains the smallest detail of personal information about you.
If the “you” in this line of thinking is a business it becomes even more critical to protect your paper data security. Generally speaking businesses control more money and connect with more people than any single individual, so the possible damage of a security breach is much higher. Industrial grade shredders can be had, or even rented, that can handle the volume of paper generated by even the largest business. Those kinds of shredders can chew through massive stacks of paper, staples, CD-ROMs, and whatever else within reason can be shoved into their grinders. The resulting confetti isn’t useful to anyone – just the way you want it.
Stop discarding old computers and hard drives
Have you ever seen a corporate data center or help desk office where row upon row of computers are just sitting there on shelves alongside stacks of old hard drives waiting to be wiped and re-used? That’s what you call “Data Thief Heaven.”
People make the mistake of thinking that “deleted” means “gone” but that just is not true. There is a whole science that revolves around recovering the information on computers after they are broken, dunked in water, had files deleted, or otherwise rendered useless to their owners. The entry-level version of it is called data recovery. The high level version is called data forensics, and can recover data so reliably that it is admissible in court as evidence.
Remember – hackers are the just computer experts who use the same skills as an FBI data forensics expert. They just put their skills to use for criminal profit.
The secret here is simple in concept but harder in execution: don’t throw away old hard drives. Destroy them instead. That’s not as easy to do as you might think, and if you do it wrong the data still exists. When destroying a hard drive it’s important to do it right so you are sure no amount of effort can retrieve the data.
Here’s a video from Shred-it, a large business specializing in data destruction, that shows just how much overkill should be used when destroying a hard drive. It’s actually visually impressive and the must-see moment happens about twenty seconds into the video.
Change your thinking
Achieving data security is actually straightforward. The best defense you have is denying identity thieves, data thieves, and hackers the information they need to breach your security. Like anyone else they want their lives to be easy. If you make your personal or business data too troublesome to acquire they will move on to easier targets.
That means you need to start thinking defensively. Remove personal data from the internet. Stop sharing new personal data. Be aware of the paper and electronic waste at your home and business. Destroy before you discard.
With a small change in outlook and a small commitment to proper disposal of data items you can become an undesirable target for data thieves. Your data won’t end up in the wrong hands if you leave them nothing to steal.