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In Wake Of Cyber Security Breaches, Protect Yourself


  Data breaches are big news these days, including a recent incident involving Russian hackers. The Better Business Bureau has some advice about protecting your identity.

About a dozen hackers in south-central Russia called “CyberVor” (“vor” is the Russian word for “thief”) stole 1.2 billion username and password combinations, according to a report in the New York Times. James Cole, a Deputy U.S. Attorney General, says the thefts were made through a program called “Game Over Zeus.”

Also taken were more than a half-million e-mail addresses. CyberVor stole the data from thousands of businesses and personal websites. Cole says “Game Over Zeus” is the most sophisticated and damaging bot-net ever encountered.

“The ‘Game Over Zeus’ software intercepts private information that can be used to conduct wire transfers,” said Cole. “And then initiates or redirects wire transfers from victims’ bank accounts to foreign bank accounts controlled by the criminals.”

At least one fraudulent transfer, says Cole, amounted to almost $7 million. This breach is on the heels of other high-profile cyber-raids on firms such as Target, Michael's, Mozilla, and PF Chang's, among others.

The Better Business Bureau offers some tips on how to prevent your identity from being compromised. Danielle Rudd at the BBB’s Pensacola office says the first step toward defeating hackers involves your passwords – make them intricate and change them frequently – every 60 to 90 days.

“Don’t just use ‘1-2-3-4,’ and especially don’t use your Social Security number or your birthdate,” Rudd said. “The easiest way to create a complex password is create a saying that you are very comfortable with remembering. From there, take the first letter of each word and create a password.”

Monitor banking and credit card accounts frequently, if not daily. Set up automatic alerts on those accounts whenever a transaction is made, and set up alerts on your credit reports at major reporting agencies such as Equifax and TransUnion. And scrutinize each charge.

Cyber-safety also includes care about the types of information that you disclose online. Rudd says it’s amazing to her what types of information show up on social media sites.

“Different things, such as ‘I’m going out of town,’” said Rudd. “And then, somebody breaks into your home and you have financial information laid out on the countertop.”

Kids aren’t immune from hackers, either, especially those who have been issued Social Security numbers from birth. Check their credit reports – if they have them – for unauthorized activity. Also be sure to discuss identity theft and online security with every member of your family who uses the Internet, from the youngest to the oldest.

More information can be found at bbb.org.