Basics of Where to Use Passwords and What Information Is Sensitive - dummies

Basics of Where to Use Passwords and What Information Is Sensitive

By Ryan C. Williams

It seems like everything online requires a password of some sort. The questions you should ask are: How long should the password be? What characters should be included in that password? Should a a password or a passphrase be used? From accessing your computer to getting your e-mail to viewing your bank records, you identify yourself with a password.

More than likely, your sensitive information involves numbers. In this world numbers mean everything. You use phone numbers to reach others, you enter credit card numbers to buy your favorite products online, and you hand over your date of birth, Social Security Number, and other hugely important digits any time you apply for a job or a bank loan.

Companies use employee and medical record numbers for identification and record keeping, and these pieces of personally identifiable information (PII) are keys to your identity on the phone, online, or in writing.

The vulnerable personal information that identity thieves use is as follows:

  • Social Security Number (SSN): This is, of course, the nine-digit personal identification number (compliments of the federal government) that everyone needs to get a job, pay taxes, and apply for credit. The SSN is the key to the kingdom — financial kingdom, that is. The identity thief uses your SSN to apply for credit, file false tax returns, get a job, open bank accounts, and so on.

  • Date of birth (DOB): A DOB is a piece of the personal information puzzle, but if an identity thief has this piece by itself, it’s not a problem. When the thief uses your DOB in conjunction with your SSN, she can become you.

  • Security questions: You see these questions — such as what was your first pet’s name and where did you go to high school — when you’re setting up an online account. There’s no right answer to these questions, though; they’re just prompts for an answer the system can use to identify you.

  • Mother’s maiden name: This name is used to verify your identity when accessing financial information. Identity thieves use your mother’s maiden name to verify their identity as yours to access your financial records and open new accounts in your name.

    Security questions have begun to include a father’s middle name as well. Everybody gets equal time!

  • Personal identification numbers (PINs): These are usually four- (or more) digit numbers used to access your bank accounts online or when using your ATM card.

  • Passwords: Your passwords are the keys to any information stored electronically. When an identity thief has the password to an account, that thief has complete access to the contents of that account, whether it’s a bank account (your money), an e-mail account (your personal information), or your Netflix account (your potentially bad taste in movies).

  • Driver’s license number: This number used to identify you is printed on your license. When the identity thief has your driver’s license number, she can have a phony license made that shows your name and driver’s license number with her picture.

Beyond numbers, though, you can still provide a great deal more personal information. Social media can let people know where you live, where you went to school, your likes and dislikes, and other information that people can use to get a complete picture of who you are.

Think about all of the information you’ve distributed on these networks (both old and new — hello MySpace and Friendster!) and how likely it is that somebody could turn up this information through a quick Google search. Even if you deactivate or delete your account, that information can still be accessible through cached searches and archives.

By using your personal information, identity thieves can party hard on your nickel and good credit reputation. They spend like there’s no tomorrow because they know that someone else (you) is picking up the tab.

Identity thieves can use your personal information to open accounts, such as a cellphone account, in your name. Of course, they don’t pay the bills and continue to use the phone until you discover the theft and the heat is on; then they drop that account and move on to another unsuspecting victim.