4 Unexpected Ways Your Data Can be Stolen (and How to Protect Yourself)

When you think about stolen data, you might picture a hacker trying to crack a database full of personal information. While that’s a fairly accurate picture of one kind of data theft, there’s more.

Not all data theft is performed by hackers and not all stolen data consists of personal information. Here are 4 unexpected ways your data can be stolen, and tips for protecting yourself:

  1. Visual hacking

Not all hackers sit at a desk running software to steal data; sometimes they just walk around looking for information on computer screens.

A global experiment sponsored by 3M revealed that a hacker was able to obtain information visually in 91% of the trials. In about half of these trials, the hacker obtained the information in less than fifteen minutes. The hacker obtained 52% of all sensitive information by looking at computer screens and was thwarted in just 32% of attempts. That means 68% of the time, nobody attempted to stop the hacker.

If anyone walking by your computer can see your screen, you need a privacy screen. A privacy screen will make the content of your screen red and blurry to anyone who isn’t looking at the screen head-on.

  1. Shady clients might steal your work without paying

Not all data is stolen by hackers. Sometimes clients steal data when they don’t want to pay for services from developers, designers, and other businesses. A client might terminate your project after receiving a proof of a document created in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. It’s hard to deliver an unusable proof in these programs. However, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint presentations can be protected.

To protect a Microsoft Word document, save the document as a password-protected PDF file and disable text selection. This will deter clients from copying and pasting your work. Hopefully, they’ll choose to pay you for your work rather than re-typing the document by hand. PowerPoint offers similar image-based protection.

Although there’s no way to guarantee a client won’t just recreate your presentation from scratch, you can make it extremely difficult for someone to grab the data. For example, if you create a PowerPoint presentation for a client and need to send them a preview before they’ve paid, there are ways to protect your presentation. The first method is to save your presentation in the Picture Presentation file format. This is the easiest way to prevent your data from being stolen and used without your permission. However, it works best for smaller presentations.

If your presentation has more than 30 slides, you can save each slide as an image and then insert each image into a new presentation using the photo album feature.

When your presentation is saved as images, it’s harder to recreate your presentation and in most cases, they won’t even try.

  1. Targeted hacking attacks

Many cyber-attacks are the result of strategic planning. To make the situation more complex, there’s more than one way hackers obtain private, sensitive data.

According to cyber security experts at Norton, targeted attacks are typically carried out in four ways:

  • Exploiting system vulnerabilities. Hackers know exactly how to exploit older versions of software to gain access to data. For example, a business storing customer data in their WordPress database is at-risk if they don’t keep WordPress updated. Hackers also routinely exploit older software to install malware on a computer that helps them steal data.
  • Weak passwords. Hackers use programs that feed dictionary words into an algorithm that runs constantly while attempting to crack the password. Sometimes hackers can guess a person’s password.
  • Drive-by downloads. These are downloads delivered in tandem with another download or simply by visiting a webpage.
  • Targeted malware and phishing attacks. Cyber criminals often target individuals with malware and use phishing tactics and try to get them to reveal their login credentials. For instance, hackers often set up a phony bank website and try to get the victim to enter their username and password. Sometimes they get people to download an attachment that installs malware on their computer.

The problem is, hackers can make an email appear to come from someone you know, so while these hacking methods are quite common, they can take you by surprise. If you receive an email from a friend and the content doesn’t sound like they wrote it, view the email’s headers to verify the source before clicking any links.

  1. Stealing garbage cans and recycle bins

It sounds bizarre, but people routinely steal entire trash cans and recycle bins to find personal information they can use for identity theft. Always shred paper that contains personal information before tossing it into the recycle bin. Shred everything including your name, phone number, social security number, and even documents referring to the banking institution you use. You can’t be too careful.

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