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Just how hackable is your digital life?

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal | Sept. 25, 2012
When Wired News reporter Mat Honan had his digital life hacked—and subsequently, virtually wiped out—in August, the significant loss of data he endured wasn't the scariest part of the experience. Much more terrifying was the method by which hackers drilled into his digital accounts.

Lie: Speaking of junk accounts, be careful about what information you give away to random websites. Sure, your bank needs to know your home address, but does a message board really need to know your zip code or your full birthday? If you can't get past a screen because the website wants you to give up too much information, Harrison suggests that you make things up. After all, he notes, message boards are notoriously hackable, and they really just want to verify that you're over a certain age.

Protect yourself offline: According to McLean, offline identity theft is still much more common than online identity theft. The reason: Email addresses have passwords, while mailboxes, dumpsters, and lost wallets do not. To protect yourself offline, McLean suggests that you get a locking mailbox (if you don't already have one), shred all important bills and documents before you throw them away, and never carry your Social Security card with you.

Use a password manager: Though password managers require a little setting up, they're worth it if you're worried about the integrity of your passwords or passphrases. Password managers such as Dashlane, 1Password, and LastPass not only store all of your passwords in a neat little encrypted program that you can unlock with a master password; they can also create secure, computer-generated passwords that even you don't know.

In choosing a password manager, it's important to pick one that's compatible with all of your devices, including your phone and tablet. Dashlane, 1Password, and LastPass are compatible with Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android; and LastPass is also compatible with Linux, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, WebOS, and Symbian. Password managers can store form data, so you don't have to park credit card information on the Web.

Freeze your credit report: Freezing your credit report is the single most effective way to prevent identity theft, according to McLean. If you're over 30 and you're not getting married or divorced, you probably won't be applying for new credit cards, loans, or mortgages, so you don't need your credit report to be readily available.

To freeze your credit report, you must contact each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), fill out a form, provide proof of identity, and pay a small fee (around $10, depending on your state). You'll then receive a PIN or password that will allow you to "thaw" your credit report (either temporarily or permanently) if you ever need to use it. Temporarily thawing your credit report usually takes less than a minute, McLean says.

Credit report freezes are free in the United States for victims of identity theft.

Even a little security goes a long way


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