PCMag SecurityWatch

How to stop companies from collecting personal data.

Views expressed in this cybersecurity-cyber crime update are those of the reporters and correspondents.

Accessed on 11 May 2022, 0315 UTC.

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PCMag SecurityWatch
5 Ways to Stop Companies From Collecting Your Personal Information
It's been a while since I signed up for a new app or service online. I've been avoiding doing so because I just don't enjoy giving companies my personal information in exchange for whatever goods or services they're offering. 

The last app I considered using was Dream by Wombo. It's an AI-generated art application, and to my delight, I didn't have to sign up for an account to create pictures. That said, when I looked at the app's privacy policy, I learned that the app collects facial feature data from Apple and uses it to create better AI-generated art. I didn't install the app and instead took time to make a decision about whether I was okay with that kind of data collection and usage. Having to go through this risk-benefit analysis every time I consider using a new service is, quite frankly, annoying.

Survey Says: The Cost of Convenience Is Too High

A lot of people feel the same way. According to a study by Wakefield Research for AU10TIX, an identity verification company, American consumers are still willing to share their personal information with businesses but 86% believe that companies ask for too much in exchange for few benefits. The study also showed that 51% of consumers are worried that their personal information may fall into the wrong hands. Two-thirds (64%) said that the potential risks of sharing too much personal data outweigh the benefits of working with online businesses.

The results of the study also show that American consumers are starting to value security over speed, with 67% of respondents saying they're willing to sacrifice convenience to keep their data locked down. Additionally, 9 out of 10 Americans surveyed said they would be willing to use account security tools when interacting with services.

How to Protect Your Personal Information

Hacks and data breaches at companies that provide the services we use on a daily basis are now commonplace. Stay safe while conducting business online by taking these five precautions:

  1. Enable multi-factor authentication for all your logins around the web. There are plenty of authenticator apps you can use with your mobile devices, or you could carry around a hardware security key on your keychain. Entering passcodes is an extra step in the login process, but it could be the safeguard that keeps malicious individuals out of your accounts in the event of a data breach.

  2. Use a password manager to keep track of your credentials. Getting a randomly-generated password from an app is a much safer option than trying to remember the same three passwords and using them for every website. Most modern passwords also allow you to store photo attachments and sensitive documents in your encrypted vault. 

  3. Read app and website privacy policies. This step takes the longest, but it's the key to understanding how companies are using your data. Keep an eye out for anything unusual, like a calculator app that also collects your health metrics.

  4. Lie while filling out web forms. I'm not recommending you do this when communicating with government agencies or your bank, but yes, go ahead and lie to the cooking website that wants your birthday, full name, phone number, and physical address in exchange for a chili recipe. If you can't figure out why an app or website needs the information they're harvesting from you, it's not a good idea to give them the real data.

  5. Just say no to unnecessary data collection. In many cases, all of the information requested on a company’s webform is not required information, so you can get away with leaving out important data about yourself. You can also choose not to accept cookies on many websites, and deny certain data requests made by applications without harming your user experience in any way.

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What Else Is Happening in the Security World This Week?

Microsoft to Businesses: You Can Now Hire Our Experts for Cybersecurity. The company's Microsoft Security Experts program will allow interested companies to outsource their IT security to Redmond.

US Sanctions Cryptocurrency 'Mixing' Service for Aiding North Korean Hackers. The service, called Blender.io, allegedly helped the North Korean state-sponsored hacking group Lazarus launder funds stolen from the $620 million Ronin Network hack.

Ransomware Attack Hits Major Farming Equipment Maker AGCO. The attack occurs after the FBI warned ransomware groups have been targeting farming groups during the planting and harvesting seasons.

Facebook Unfollows 'Nearby Friends,' Other Background Location Features. Thus far, Facebook is only quietly announcing the sweeping data-minimization move via in-app prompts and emails to users.

Ex-CISA Chief: Biden Cybersecurity EO 'Raises the Standard' on IT Vendors. The executive order acknowledges that our greatest cybersecurity tool "is the power of the purse," says Chris Krebs, who was fired by President Trump for saying the 2020 election was legitimate.

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Beware of BEC Scams
The FBI says that fraudsters are conducting business email compromise (BEC) attacks. The agency recently issued an alert saying BEC attacks are responsible for an estimated exposed loss of $43 billion from companies across the globe since 2016, meaning actual and attempted losses.

As PCMag's Michael Kan explains, BEC attack schemes often involve a scammer either trying to take over the official email account of a CEO or high-ranking executive or impersonating them (or a trusted supplier) via a spoofed email account. The culprit then messages the company’s accounting staff and requests a large money transfer.

BEC attacks aren't new, but the FBI warns that the scams target all kinds of businesses: major corporations, small businesses, and even personal transactions. To stay safe, the FBI asks users to use multi-factor authentication on their email accounts. As with other popular phishing scams, if you receive a large money transfer request from a CEO or family member, you should call them or meet in person to make sure the request is legitimate.

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