Cybersecurity for the Normal Person: Breaking Down the Basics

Following major data breaches like those at Yahoo and Equifax, the term, ‘cyber security’ is becoming a buzzword akin to ‘synergy’ or ‘influencer.’ When a company uses it to explain their services, it conveys a sense of ‘know-how,’ but what does it really mean, and how do you know if and when someone really knows what they’re talking about when they mention it?

As someone who’s job it often is to break down concepts and make my loan officers, my customers, and my company understand why they are relevant and important, I am happy to do the same for my readers with the term, ‘cyber security!’ You probably already know cybersecurity is important, but why? And what’s the best next step? Read on to find out three facts about cybersecurity, and three simple, cost-effective ways you can ensure that your identity is secure.

  • “Cybersecurity” is a broad term that refers to methods of protecting data, programs, and networks from hackers or other forms of attacks. This can mean utilizing a service that monitors the use of your credit card information, working with a mortgage company to monitor your credit and personal identity, or employing a firewall to protect your home computer server or in-office network. If this sounds overwhelming, that’s because it is! There are so many different ways to protect yourself, your company, and your family, and cybersecurity is an umbrella for all of those.
  • The topic of “cybersecurity” has become particularly relevant in recent years because of major data breaches, like that at Equifax, in which cybercriminals find a vulnerability and exploit it to expose names, social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, and even credit card information. The release of this information can, unfortunately, result in identity theft (further discussed below).

It’s important to realize that as we’ve grown more technologically advanced, our information has become subject to different types of security concerns, concerns that many have yet to understand (or find the proper protection against). As such, we need to educate ourselves, remain alert, and take the proper precautions in order to nip those concerns in the bud before they even get added to our daily to-worry-about list!

  • Though cybersecurity (or the lack thereof) can have profound effects on everyone from the government, to fortune 500 companies, to you, sitting at your desk, identity theft is the main concern among consumers. This crime takes place when an imposter uses pieces of key information, like credit card information, driver’s license number, passport information, and social security numbers, and uses it to pose as another individual, typically to their financial gain. The offenses related to identity theft range from minor fraudulent credit card charges to stolen tax refunds, to fraudulent crimes, or crimes the imposter commits as “you.” Three ways to combat this are described below.

How to Avoid Identity Theft:

  • Don’t use the same password everywhere. I know, it’s impossible to remember so many different passwords! But get an application that provides a password vault (LastPass, 1Password, RoboForm are examples) and keep them there, because if you have the same password for every website, you’re basically giving cybercriminals an easy-in to your identity. Passwords on most websites can win any craft criminal basic personal information, like name, birthdate, and address, as well as a credit card number. So don’t make your password the same on more than 2 websites; it’s a risk that can easily turn into a major issue for you following the next data breach.
  • Set up fraud alerts. You can do this easily by calling a credit bureau, like Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion, and asking them to set up a free fraud alert (also known as an initial security alert). If a lender is ever looking to pull your credit report, the company must verify your identity with your phone number and other pieces of information before allowing a new account to be opened.
  • Talk to your loan officer or talk with a mortgage company. It may sound silly, but is a very real option. Your mortgage company is an important resource for all sorts of financial information, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Because they know you, they’ll know the forms of protection that will be best given your personal situation, and can help provide options that are most cost-effective for you.

All in all, the idea of cybersecurity is overwhelming and frightening, largely because it’s less familiar and less tangible than the standard notion of “theft” was 30 years ago. That said, it’s important to know that these situations can be prevented, but in order to be prevented, they need to be taken seriously; even if you’re a struggling college student with only $48.80 in the bank, you should still take precautions. For more information and ideas for protection, check out this FAQ page, or the Equifax site.


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