It's National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Oct. 3, 2017

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and we’re sharing the following article from our Director of Business Security, Mike Youngs. The article also appears in the Oct. issue of Michigan Country Lines magazine.

If you’re a regular reader of this space, I am willing to bet you are using free software or services. Web giants such as Facebook and Google are free to use. The App Store and Android Market are loaded with freebies. But it costs money to build and maintain technology, so how can it just be given away?
Perhaps a photographer will offer free headshots. To get the professional pictures, they want to use your photo. You are providing something of value—you—in exchange for the free mugshot.  

Free software works the same way. The developer may give out the first level of a game for free, planning on you wanting to purchase the rest of the game. Sometimes the developer is building new software or features they want to use in future products, and they use free games for real life quality assurance.
Back to two of the biggest online companies, Facebook and Google. They maintain vast, global technology platforms that billions of people use for free. How can they afford to do that, much less make record profits? It’s because they are advertising companies first and technology companies second. Their job is to get eyes on advertisements.

Planning your spring break vacation by visiting the Disney World website? Next thing you know, Disney World ads are promoted in your timeline. This is because Facebook and Google offer advertising to companies who want to drive you back to their website.

They do not sell your personal information. Ads appear based on profiles of users within a certain criteria, such as male, aged 43 living in Michigan or through remarketing lists collected by the websites you visit, which is why you will see ads for things you were looking at or shopping for.

Some companies will sell your personal information for marketing purposes, too. Great Lakes Energy does not sell any of your personal or account information. Getting unrecognized calls on your cell phone about being prequalified for a loan? Chances are your contact information was purchased, sold and purchased again.

So what can you do? When surfing the internet, many browsers support a “privacy” mode or a mode that won’t store information on your computer about the websites you are visiting. If you are a Google user, sign-in to your account and opt-out of ads. Using a VPN is also helpful.

If you must sign up and provide personal information before using a service or downloading software, my favorite countermeasure is to simply provide fake info. You can use a disposable email address, such as 10minutemail.com, and made up phone numbers. I’d feel really bad if by some coincidence there is a real “Jenny Fakerson” at 867-5309.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back again with more tips on how to get the most out of the online world as safely and securely as possible.