Your Personal Information
Everyone knows that putting out your personal information online is a highly sensitive issue and most people are careful where they put their personal information. However, many online companies that require you to log in to an account, have devised systems for you to be able to reset your password. Many banks and credit card companies have set up security systems when you log in to verify your identity. The crux of all of these security systems is a series of questions that you provide the answers for when you sign up. You are then challenged with some of these questions when you try and log in or change your account settings. The problem with these questions is that they ask easy questions that pertain to you personally. For example, what is your maiden name? Where were you born? what city were you married in? And on and on. These seemingly simple and benign questions are a time bomb waiting to happen. As proven by the recent hacking of Alaska Governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's emails. By searching public records, hackers were able to figure out the answers to these questions and compromise her email, plastering her personal information on the web for everyone in the world to view. It could just as easily be your email or, even worse, your credit card account.
You might think that "what is the name of your favorite pet?" is nothing to worry about, after all how does someone who doesn't know you have this information? The first part of this answer is that you should never assume the hacker is someone who doesn't know you. The second is that, with the internet today, it is amazing what you can find out about somebody. Maybe you entered Spot in a dog contest last week and it was covered by the local newspaper. In a matter of hours, the search engines have indexed this information for all eternity.
So what can you do? It's simple and obvious. Always make up the answers to where they have nothing to do with your real life. If you can't remember the answers you made up, make yourself a list and put it in a safe place. If you store this information on your computer ENCRYPT it! Make sure your answers cannot be guessed by even your closest friends. Make them totally random. Where were you married? Pick a page in an atlas at random and that's the place.
Hackers will always use the easiest approach to get your data. It's a lot easier to search through a corporate dumpster for papers containing login information, account names or credit card receipts than it is to hack a secured system. This advise applies to your home security as well. People dive through household trash all the time looking for things. Throw away your credit card statement and they are half the way to stealing your identity and credit. Give them an easy way of bypassing the banks security by choosing easy to guess answers and they will get all of your information and money. Get online and use your email at a coffee shop or hotel without a VPN and the hacker has your email address. Now all he needs is to answer some simple questions and he's in.
You are the only person who can take action to make you secure. Following logical and proper procedures and using basic, common sense will go a long way to make you a difficult target. If you make yourself hard to crack, the hackers and identity thieves will move on to easier prey. They don't have time to waste on strong security when so many people use virtually none.