The protection and proper handling of your personal information continue to be of the utmost importance. You must take measures to ensure that you maintain control over your personal data.
Tip 1. Beware of Your Internet of Things (IoT) Devices
Connected devices such as smart speakers, smart TVs, and home security systems can introduce certain risks and vulnerabilities. These devices are designed to collect and transmit your personal data, including user behavior, preferences, and usage patterns, which can be valuable to both advertisers and malicious actors. IoT devices are often targeted by hackers because they can serve as entry points into home or business networks. These compromised devices can be used to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, launch further attacks, or exploit vulnerabilities in other connected devices.
Hackers can target IoT devices in your home through a variety of methods, including:
- Exploiting the use of default or weak passwords: Many IoT devices come with default usernames and passwords, which are often well-known and easily exploitable by hackers. If you don’t change these default credentials or use weak passwords, hackers can easily gain access to your devices.
- Exploiting built-in vulnerabilities: IoT devices, like any other technology, may have vulnerabilities or security flaws. Hackers can exploit these vulnerabilities by finding and using security loopholes to gain unauthorized access to your devices.
- Engaging in man-in-the-middle attacks: In a man-in-the-middle attack, hackers intercept and alter communication between your IoT device and its intended destination. They can eavesdrop on your data, inject malicious code, or impersonate the legitimate device or server, leading to data theft or unauthorized control.
Ensure that you understand the data collection practices of these devices and take steps to secure them. Keep in mind, some IoT devices rely on companion apps or cloud services for configuration and control. If these apps or services have security vulnerabilities, hackers can exploit them to gain unauthorized access to your devices or personal information.
Tip 2. Maintain Strong Network Security
Insufficient network security measures, such as weak passwords or unsecured WiFi networks, can make your personal data vulnerable to hacking and unauthorized access. Hackers can attempt to guess your device’s passwords using automated software or tools. By systematically trying different combinations of usernames and passwords, they can gain access to your network (including your IoT devices connected via WiFi) if you have weak or easily guessable credentials. Use strong, unique passwords and enable network encryption to protect your home network.
Tip 3. Be Mindful of What You Share Online
Oversharing personal information on social media platforms can expose you to privacy risks. For instance, if you share your home location online, a hacker may be able to gain physical access to your IoT device and exploit security weaknesses directly. Physical access can happen in many ways, including a break-in, a stranger such as a repairman inside your home, or maybe a “friend” of your child. This person could insert malicious firmware or tamper with the device’s hardware to gain control or extract sensitive information. Be mindful of what you share, review privacy settings, and limit the personal information you disclose online. Also, be mindful of what physical information you leave on your IoT devices, such as the infamous sticky note listing your username and password.
Tip 4. Be Wary of Phishing and Online Scams
Cybercriminals may attempt to trick you into revealing sensitive information through phishing emails or fraudulent websites. Hackers can use malware or phishing techniques to trick you into downloading malicious software or visiting compromised websites. Once your device is infected, the hacker can take control of it, access your data, or use it as a gateway to attack other devices on your network. Some of the common phishing scams include:
- Emails claiming to be from your bank or financial institution, asking you to verify your account information or update your password.
- Messages pretending to be from popular online retailers, such as Amazon or Walmart, requesting you to confirm your payment details or log-on credentials.
- Emails or messages pretending to be from well-known social media platforms, asking you to click on a link to verify your account or reset your password.
- Emails posing as government agencies or organizations, requesting personal information or payment for a supposed fine or penalty.
- Messages claiming to be from reputable companies or services, asking you to click on a link to update your account information or confirm a purchase.
Be cautious of suspicious emails, links, and requests for personal information, and ensure you have robust security software installed.
Tip 5. Protect Your Backups and the Data That You Dispose Of
Failing to properly back up and dispose of sensitive data can lead to privacy risks. For example, a failure to properly back up your data can lead to data loss. This can occur due to hardware failure, accidental deletion, malware attacks, or other unforeseen events. Losing important data can have severe consequences, such as financial loss, legal issues, or the inability to recover valuable information. It can damage your reputation, too. To mitigate these risks, establish proper backup procedures, including regular backups to secure storage locations or cloud services.
If your sensitive data is exposed or compromised due to improper backup or disposal practices, it can harm your personal or professional reputation. You can experience a loss of trust from customers, clients, or colleagues that can have long-lasting negative impacts on your relationships and credibility. Also, depending on your jurisdiction, you need to be concerned about the legal and regulatory requirements for handling and disposing of sensitive data. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in legal consequences, penalties, or fines. It’s essential to understand and adhere to the applicable data protection laws in your region.
The loss, theft, or unauthorized disclosure of sensitive data can have financial implications. This may include the costs associated with investigating and mitigating a data breach, potential legal actions, or the financial impact of reputational damage on business or personal finances.
Improperly disposing of your sensitive data can expose you to identity thieves and fraudsters, who can use your data to commit a variety of fraudulent activities. This can include opening fraudulent accounts, making unauthorized transactions, or impersonating individuals for malicious purposes. Protecting and properly disposing of sensitive data helps mitigate the risk of identity theft and fraud. Always remember, your sensitive data should be securely disposed of by using methods such as encryption, secure erasure, shredding physical documents, or using certified e-waste disposal services for electronic devices.
Regularly back up important files and securely delete data from old devices before disposing of them to prevent unauthorized access.
By being aware of these concerns and taking proactive measures to protect your privacy at home, you can mitigate risks and ensure the security of your personal data.
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 2, September 2023. © 2023 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.