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Pew Research Center: Americans Don’t Secure Their Devices, Get Hacked

Late last year, I wrote about the importance of using secure passwords to protect personal information in the context of the hacking that affected the 2016 election. Reinforcing and expanding on some of the points in that post, the Pew Research Center produced a sizeable report titled, “Americans and Cybersecurity,” which adds some insights. Generally, the more Americans rely on mobile devices and Internet networks to transact their personal (and often financial) information, the more likely someone will hack it and use it to their own ends. Identity theft can leave debtors struggling to pay their bills with whatever money they have left, possibly leading to bankruptcy.

Pew first discussed the prevalence of online accounts among Americans, noting that 64 percent have some kind of Internet-based account. (It’s unclear if this figure includes people under the age of 18.) Fifty-five percent have at least one account with a bank or financial provider, and 32 percent have an online account with a health care provider. 39 percent have accounts involving bill payments or transactions. The widespread use of online accounts exposes many Americans to security breaches.

Disturbingly, some kind of data theft has affected nearly two-thirds of Americans. Note that not everyone needs to have an online account to suffer a data breach. Any time you give information to a business or government agency, it will undoubtedly store it in a computer system. As many as 41 percent have noticed a fraudulent charge on their credit cards. Fourteen percent had a loan taken out in their names, and 6 percent had a tax refund stolen.

Add to this Pew’s findings on how Americans do, or, rather, do not secure their vulnerable mobile devices. 28 percent do not activate any kind of screen lock on their devices whatsoever. Thieves who steal their devices would have instant access to all the information on their smart phones, meaning any applications or Web sites that the owner permanently logged in to would be totally compromised. Additionally, owners who store their phones in confined spaces—pockets, purses, etc.—will suffer the hassle of unintentional phone calls or other mis-clicks, including possibly 911 calls.

Finally, Pew found that many users overestimate the security of public Wi-Fi networks. It’s somewhat understandable. Many American households have Wi-Fi routers at home, which are secure and require passwords. When they’re out, they may not deactivate their mobile devices’ wireless features, so when they enter a business with an open network, like a coffee shop or hotel, they access it automatically or because it’s free. However, open networks are dangerous because any information sent on them can be intercepted with even the most rudimentary hacking capabilities, referred to as “man-in-the-middle” attacks. Pew’s surveys showed that as many as 54 percent of Americans use open, public Wi-Fi networks, and of them, about one-fifth use their devices for highly sensitive purposes such as online shopping or banking.

Per Pew’s recommendations, it’s a very good idea to employ screen locks on smart phones and other mobile devices. Similarly, deactivating the wireless features when leaving home will also prevent easy hacking attacks. Security experts recommend using SSL encryption (which puts “https” in front of Web site names), and using smart phones as mobile hotspots when trying to use the Internet securely with a larger device such as a laptop computer.

The Pew report is here with more information here.

Mobile device security is a new frontier, presenting unique perils in familiar places. If an identity theft has caused you severe financial distress and you are falling behind on bills, then talking to an experienced New York bankruptcy lawyer can help you assess your options.

For answers to more questions about bankruptcy, the automatic stay, effective strategies for dealing with foreclosure, and protecting your assets in bankruptcy please feel free to contact experienced Brooklyn bankruptcy attorney Bruce Weiner for a free initial consultation.

Rosenberg, Musso & Weiner, L.L.P
26 Court St # 2211
Brooklyn, NY 11242, USA

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