How safe is your information?

By Isaiah Jurado Source: Wired UK

As technology continues to extend into every facet of our lives, so do the dangers of online hacking. Last year 18.5 million Californians’ personal information was hacked, nearly half of the states' 38 million residents. According to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, one third of these victims will later be victims of fraud.

However, the concept of online hacking seems ambiguous to the average consumer such as myself. I assume that if I cover my pin at the checkout counter and make sure that no one is listening if I disclose my social security number, I must be safe, right? Not quite.

The reality is that whenever we use our debit or credit cards, that information must be processed by companies’ servers and if their systems are underprotected such as in the November Target stores hack of last year, hackers can access personal credit card information and social security numbers.

Hackers don’t necessarily have to be in California or even the United States to do their work. Attorney General Harris reported that “increasingly, highly sophisticated criminal organizations and state-sponsored entities -- located as far away as Russia, China and Eastern Europe -- are responsible for breaches.” This is unsettling news for consumers who shop at local retailers only to have hackers in another country steal their information.

With the amount of hacking in California steadily growing from 2012, the pressure is on retailers, banks, and other organizations to improve their security measures when dealing with customer information.

California needs to implement more stringent security requirements for corporations and banks. No matter how advanced our online security becomes, there will always be some people who will be able to get through. But by implementing a stronger system, we will reduce the amount of hackers able to successfully steal information. The most immediate solution is a switch to high-tech chip-based credit cards. As many European countries have already switched to the new cards, the United States lags behind and ultimately becomes a larger target for hackers. The chip-based card  “contains an embedded microchip that encrypts cardmember information into a unique code that significantly increases transaction and account data security when used at a chip-enabled terminal, and makes card cloning and fraud more difficult.” This card is significantly safer than the traditional magnetic strip which is more vulnerable to counterfeit. But while the card is better, it also comes with an estimated $8 billion dollar price tag and a 2015 date of completion. Although the cost is high, the alternative is to remain a target for hackers and risk the security of customers’ personal information. Incidents like the Target stores hack made us realize our need for greater security--and if we don’t heed the warning, we are just as responsible as the hackers.

Finally, we must do our part as consumers. We may not have control once we make a purchase, but we can try to keep out information safe by looking out for indicators of fraud such as false terminals and insecure online sites, as well as keeping track of who we let accesses our cards and information. And if possible, ask your bank if you can upgrade to the chip based card. As technology advances, we can't just rely on "hand on the wallet" security. We may not be able to prevent hackers entirely, but as consumers we can know what to look out for and minimize the damage is it occurs.

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