If the definition of competence were the ability to whine, point fingers, speculate and blame everyone else for our problems but ourselves, we’d be the most competent culture in world history.
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But that’s not what competence means. It means the ability to do something well, successfully or efficiently. And when it comes to cybersecurity and privacy – as with anything critical to your health and wellbeing – you need to own it if you want to be competent at it.
A reporter once asked me if the microprocessor company where I worked was cooperating with a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation into anticompetitive practices at our archrival, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). I said, “Yes. But if we have to count on the government for the success of our company, we’re in big trouble,” or something to that affect.
When something is important, I focus on what I can do to make a difference and leave the complaining, debating, hand wringing and conspiracy theories to others, as should you. So forget about Edward Snowden and the NSA and focus on doing something about these real threats to your cybersecurity and your privacy.
Hackers, mostly foreign. The Target (NYSE:TGT) hack and the vast majority of cybercrime, cybersecurity breaches, and malware attacks are the handy work of hackers based in Russia, China, the U.S. and other countries. If you’re not following basic security measures such as using comprehensive up-to-date security software and a limited number of credit cards from large institutions, you’re just asking for trouble.
Your physical security. Ironically, one of the easiest ways to get hacked is to have one of your devices stolen. Password-protect them. And for God’s sake, don’t leave them – or your wallet or purse, for that matter – laying around in your car, your backpack, your hotel room, your shopping cart, or on a table at Starbucks. Not even for a second.
Your Internet Service Provider. ISPs for enterprises, businesses, and homes are in a critical position to monitor Internet traffic and block malicious attacks. They are also in a position to capture and sell your information to online telemarketers, spammers, and others. If you’re having problems, switch ISPs. Simple as that.
Your network. As into this stuff as I am, I didn’t bother password protecting my home WiFi network and making sure every device on it was protected until relatively recently. I live in the middle of nowhere so the threat was minimal, but still. In this day and age, an open network is a hacked network, sooner or later.
Your passwords. Yes, passwords are a real pain, I know. But if they’re easy to hack, they will be. And if you use the same one for multiple accounts, that could spell trouble. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) all have password management systems for their operating systems. It’s a good idea to use them.
Google. Chances are, Google knows more about you than you do. It sends targeted ads at you based on your searches, the content of your emails, your purchases, even your location. And it’s learning more about you every day. Sure, you can avoid using its devices and services or turn all that stuff off, but the search giant doesn’t make it easy, that’s for sure.
You and those close to you. With the advent of Web 2.0 and user-generated content, it’s now the norm to post the most intimate details of our lives on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, messaging apps, and who-knows where else. It’s all searchable and hackable. When it comes to cybersecurity, data security, and privacy, we truly are our own worst enemies. If you don’t want everyone on Earth to know it, don’t post it.
One more thing: lots of federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, have failed the cybersecurity and privacy competency test. It’s hard to believe that the most feared organization in America – the IRS – will soon know everything about our health as well as our finances. If that bugs you, elect politicians who support a simple flat tax, abolishing the IRS, and keeping government out of healthcare. And forget the NSA.