How to protect yourself from Data thieves

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Data thieves, technology, cybercrime

By Narendra Nathan

Rampant use of apps and social media can leave you vulnerable to financial loss. Find out how you can stop your details from being compromised.

Protect your Wi-Fi
In our wired world, most devices are connected through Wi-Fi and protecting the connection should be priority. The risks are many. Neighbours tapping into your connection and using data at your expense is a risk. However, the risk quotient rises markedly if financial fraudsters use this route to access your personal data or terrorists use your network for their activities. Some simple solutions can help. Switching off the Wi-Fi when not in use, changing the user name given by the manufacturers, making a complex password and changing it regularly are some. You can also choose to go invisible.

That way your connection will not show up during a search. But there is a small risk. “Since you are hiding your Wi-Fi from all, including yourself, you could lose your connection if you forget the user name,” warns Savnal.

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Free can be costly
Anything free makes us Indians happy, but you need to control your glee when it comes to free Wi-Fi. Most experts advise avoiding public Wi-Fi and using it only when absolutely needed. “Attackers can track the entire traffic in a Wi-Fi zone and spot systems with weak connections. While you may be browsing normally, attackers may be carrying out financial transactions using your device.

Anti-national activities can also be carried out from your device without your knowledge,” says Shivangi Nadkarni, Co-Founder & CEO, Arrka, another data protection entity. So what does one do if there is no option but to use public Wi-Fi? “It is better to install tools like Norton Wifi Privacy that encrypts traffic from your device and make it invisible to others. However, please note that such anonymous users are banned in some countries,” says Savnal.

Guard your devices
The first step is to install high quality antivirus and anti malware software. Avoid free softwares as they could be spreading viruses and malwares. “I don’t like anything free. As the saying goes, ‘If you are not paying, you are the product and not the customer,’” says Savnal. Even if you have a strong anti-virus software in place, you cannot let your guard down. Just like Wi-Fi, the outside world would have access to your Bluetooth. “If Bluetooth is on, anyone near you would have access to your devices. So turn it on only when it is needed,” says Nadkarni. Similarly, there is no need to tell the entire world about your location in real time.

With almost all OTPs now coming to your mobile, protecting that should be your next priority. A complex screen lock can keep your phone data safe for some time even if it falls into the wrong hands. Most devices have in-built cameras that also need protecting. In addition to software-based protections, physically controlling the camera is an option. “I use a black sticker on top of the camera and remove it when using it for video conferencing, etc,” says Savnal.

Choose apps with care
Mobile apps today are many and mostly free and we are only too happy to download them. However, experts advise caution and recommend using the fewest possible as most data is now leaked through these apps. The problem stems from the permissions the apps demand. Most seek access to your contact list, camera, phone, sms, location, etc. You are also given additional incentives for downloading the apps. Once permission is given, the apps can collect almost all the information you store on your phone. “Our study of 100 apps developed in India and meant primarily for Indian audiences revealed that 31% apps take more than 10 dangerous permissions and shared data with at least one third party,” reveals Nadkarni.

In addition to your own data, these apps also mine other people’s data stored in your phone. “You may be compromising someone else’s data. For instance, assume that you have saved someone’s personal number on your phone and these apps will get it, without that someone revealing it himself,” says Tarun Wig, Co-founder, Innefu Labs. The worrying bit is this data extraction is legal as of now and will become illegal only after the new data protection law comes into force. The data mined can be used in a good and a bad way. The apps can push advertisements based on what it finds in your system.

For instance, if your phone has a lot of photographs of exotic locations stored, the system will assume you like to travel and push advertisements tuned towards it. However, since some of these apps also contain third party software, they may be extracting other data and there is no guarantee it won’t be sold. While we cannot stop using all apps, we can revoke permission given to them. “Though there are softwares that track permissions given to apps, security of those are also in doubt. The best way is to physically remove the permissions to such applications and allow permission only when it is needed,” advises Wig. For example, allow location tracking permission only when you use Google maps and remove its permission later.

Email alert
The first step in guarding your email lies in a strong password that is changed regularly. The second factor authentication is the next step. “Most emails allow you to set up two-step authentication and everyone should use it,” says Wig. This will send you an OTP every time you try to login from a new device, thereby reducing chances of hacking. Hackers also try to get hold of your email or device by sending attachments that contain viruses or malwares. “Don’t open mails in the spam folder because the mails also can have viruses or malwares now,” says Savnal.

Keep your cards safe
The next time you withdraw money from an ATM, watch out for cloning devices. Delhi resident Jyotsna Singh was away in Jaipur in March 2018, when Rs 50,000 was withdrawn from her account through multiple transactions at various ATMs in Delhi. “Since the debit card was in my possession, I immediately alerted the bank and also transferred the remaining money to another account using Netbanking,” she says. An FIR and several interactions with the bank finally got her money back after a few months.

Be wary of calls from banks
Several fraudsters pretend to call from your bank and siphon off your details, which they then use to wipe your account clean. Jaipur resident Bhupender Dagur should know. He had a running home loan account with SBI when someone called him two days before the EMI was due, claiming to be from the bank. He told Dagur that his debit card had been blocked and that would hinder his EMI payment. He asked Dagur for his card details to “unblock” the card.  In panic, Dagur revealed his card details to the caller. Within half an hour, Rs 50,000 had been debited from his account in five transactions. Despite filing an FIR and complaining to the RBI, Dagur could not recover his money. “I am more informed now and will never reveal any details over phone again,” he says.

Shield your passwords
Passwords are supposed to protect us, but the problem is most users don’t know how to protect their passwords. The issue is compounded by the fact that we have multiple bank, investment, mail and social media accounts. Several online portals, ticket booking sites, service providers, etc also insist on a user name and password for ‘better service’. And most of them want these passwords to be complex. “Since it is difficult to remember so much, most people keep simple passwords. This is a high risk strategy because if one such account is hacked, the hacker could have access to all your other accounts,” says Wig. Writing down your passwords in one place is also risky. So memorising all the passwords is the only safe option. If you must write down your passwords, keep the language coded.

Scamsters also try to steal your details through phishing. For example, phishing occurs when fraudsters, masquerading as your bank, send a mail with a link and when the link is opened; it shows the mirror image of the bank’s website. Since the mail says that you need to login and do something, you try to give the username and password – and the same is recorded by the fraudster. “Never click on a bank link that is sent on email. Always go to the bank site directly,” says Rahul Vora, Director & Head, Deposit and Wealth Management, Deutsche Bank India.

Be discreet on social media
Many have the habit of revealing critical data like their date of birth, home or office address, phone number, etc on social media without realising that what you put out on the Internet is permanent. You could delete a social media account, but the details will remain in the backups and can be accessed by hackers. For example, we keep sharing our date of birth with everyone, but it is the ‘second password’ for stock trading accounts in India. It is important for phone banking as well. “Revealing date of birth on social media is a bad habit because the date of birth is one of the criteria banks ask for during phone banking,” says Chandnani.

Revealing personal data on social media can harm you in other ways too. For example, most banks use secret questions and answers for generating a new password or during third party transfers. “These secret questions are designed to have unique answers known only to the customer and they are taking a big risk if they share answers on social media,” says Jain.

Control offline leak
Beware that someone who approaches you for your details for a ‘lucky draw’ every time you visit malls and conferences. They are data vendors and they make money by selling your details. “No one can save you if you are ready to trade your personal data for lucky draws, cakes, tickets, etc,” says Savnal. Shredding all papers before selling or binning them is another good practice. This is because phone bills, bank statements, boarding passes etc carry a lot of your data. Even the envelope addressed to you contains your name, address and phone number. Throwing them without shredding can compromise your safety.

A strong intermediary
Your data can also get leaked from financial intermediaries, telecom companies, etc, so only deal with entities that have strong systems in place. Data breach in India is significantly higher than the global average. According to the 2018 Thales Data Threat Report, more than half – 52% – of Indian respondents reported a successful breach during the last year, well ahead of the global average of 36%.

Source: ET Telecom

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