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Cyber Crime Growing, Are you Protected?

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Cyber crime. A decade ago most of us weren't even aware of the term. Now many of us try to guard against becoming a victim. And we apparently have good reason.

"The most interesting finding is the breadth of threats that exist for any organization doing business today," says Wade Baker from Verizon's RISK Team. We spoke with Baker via satellite several weeks ago when the company's 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report was released. In it, the company said up to 47,000 security incidents had been analyzed with 621 confirmed data breaches studied.

Baker says more companies are under siege from organized cyber thief networks. "It's just a fact of life that if a business is accepting transactions and working with consumers (which all businesses do), that the business may be targeted by some kind of cyber threat," he said.

Baker also said one of the most interesting findings in the report is that small organizations now seem to be at risk along with large organizations. "Banks, retailers, restaurants, government agencies, you name it. Nobody gets a free pass anymore," Baker said.

Baker says as consumers we provide our information at an ever increasing rate. Businesses take that information and share it with other organizations so he says our data exists somewhere out there in cyber space in more places than we could count. "Sometimes that data falls into the wrong hands," Baker said.

Major security breaches at a bank for example can come back to haunt individual consumers. So the big companies protecting your data is one thing. But don't think that a cyber thief may not be targeting your own individual bank account or personal information. 

"You really need to be a smart transactor of your information. Don't be so readily obliging in giving it out everywhere," says Baker.

Frank Katz, assistant professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University couldn't agree more. "You have to protect your information," he told us. Katz teaches several courses on cyber security. He says when going online, be aware you have to give to get. "If you want to purchase something online, you have to give information away." Katz said. "that's why I tell my students to only do business on reputable sites.

Katz says look for the little security lock which he says you can verify is the real thing. "Right click on the lock and it brings up the company's certificate," he said. "You should see SSL which stands for Severe Socket Layered Technology. The certificate ensure your transaction is safe."

Katz says a lot of people make simple mistakes with their home computers. He says they don't secure their wireless network at home, they don't update anti-virus software and they don't make sure a firewall is operating on their computer. "These are obvious things to do. If you don't know how to do them, take your computer somewhere or find a teenager who can do it," he laughs. Still, Katz is serious about protecting his own information, saying he even uses a password management software where he stores his many passwords. "Too many people use a simple password and use it for many accounts so they can remember it," he said. "But that can be dangerous."

Katz says if someone does hack into your computer or even your telephone and gets that "one" major password they can access much of your personal data.

Another security expert, Teresa Payton, suggests that phones should be secured much like computers. She says a phone should have a password and that you should have a plan on what to do if your phone is lost or stolen. She says find out if your service provide has an auto-wipe feature to remove data from your phone remotely if it does fall into the wrong hands. You should also be able to download apps that would allow you to remotely remove data as well. Payton said that cyber criminals go where the action is and that laptop sales are now lower than phone or tablet sales.

Katz says making sure you update your computer and do other things like shred your documents can give you a level or protection.

Baker told us he also has some simple tips for consumers. He said he doesn't allow online shopping sites to store his credit card. He says if the site is hacked, your card number is automatically stolen. He also says at retail outlets where there is an issue of "guarding your pin" especially a gas station, he runs his card as a credit card. That way the pin number is not required and if anyone is looking over their shoulder, you have not given them the opportunity to steal your pin.

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