7 “Harmless” Behaviors That Are Actually Huge Security Risks

5 minute read

We have a conference room here at RV Headquarters called “Speed Trumps Perfection.” In the world of security we call that, “Convenience Trumps Common Sense.” 

There’s a dangerous trend on the rise, and it’s being led by millennials. (No, we’re not talking about avocado toast. 🥑) People who were born after the internet – and only know a life with the internet – don’t see data sharing as an intrusion. It just is

As the expectation of normalcy has shifted, the expectation of “privacy” has shifted along with it. In 1995, if I had said, “Here’s an idea: tell me every place you go, who you’re with, what you’re doing, what you’re eating… then take a picture and share it with everybody (including people you don’t know)… and make it searchable forever,”  it would sound absurd.

Here’s the reality: we do that every day when we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a host of other online platforms. We voluntarily give away highly personal information all the time – without even realizing what we’re doing.

TL;DR: If there’s a more convenient path that makes life easier (or gets you to what you want faster), you might think twice before taking it.

Here are 7 “harmless” behaviors you should think twice about before doing:

1. Taking online quizzes

Sure, it’s fun to know which 90s fashion trend you should bring back based on your ranking of the Fast & Furious sequels, or what kind of milkshake your personality most resembles. (I’m strawberry, obviously). But look again at the data you’re actually sharing:

What’s your favorite color? Do you have a pet? What was your university’s mascot? When did you graduate high school? 

These seemingly trivial questions sound pretty similar to common account security questions, don’t they?

There’s no guarantee that a website is collecting and storing the data you give away… but there’s no guarantee that it’s not.

Be suspicious any time any website asks for information, no matter how innocent/fun it may seem.

2. Picking up free computer hardware.

It’s pretty well-documented that bad USB drives can be used to install malicious software and gain access to computers. But even as USB ports are phased out of newer computer models, hackers are finding covert ways to compromise your computer.

Take, for example, this completely innocent-looking lightning cable, which was actually modified help hackers remotely access an unsuspecting user’s computer and snatch their data. 

Just as you should never take candy from strangers, don’t take cables, drives, or devices from people you don’t trust.

3. Using your work info for personal deliveries and online accounts. 

Pro-tip: If you never use your work address for personal mail, you’ll never get personal mail to your work address. (This applies to physical AND electronic mail.) 

If you live by this rule, any time you receive something unexpected at work, you’ll immediately know that there’s trickery afoot.

4. Using your work password (or a similar naming convention) for other online accounts.

Do you want to live in a world where someone who has your Tumblr password… can also access your work documents and systems? No. No, you don’t. 

Create a completely new password for every account you create. Tip: Tools like LastPass will do this for you.

5. Using “shared” logins to avoid typing your password.

Though it might spare you approximately 10 seconds of brain power, this action authorizes the sharing of personal data between two different platforms. Like this:

Step away from the blue button!

It’s like using a copy of your neighbor’s key to get into YOUR house. Sure, it’s convenient if you ever get locked out. But it’s decidedly less convenient when someone with bad intentions gets a hold of one key… and robs you both.

6. Placing ‘smart speakers’ in heavily-trafficked common spaces. 

Ever wondered how Alexa can understand exactly what you’re saying, regardless of your accent or tone of voice? 

Spoiler: it’s because companies that specialize in intelligent voice recognition are constantly listening, recording, and analyzing “ambient sounds” in people’s personal lives – from their homes to their cars – in order to build their natural language databases.

If a computer software company can “listen in” on your conversations, a tech-savvy hacker probably can too.

7. Leaving technology on when you’re not using it. 

This one’s not just about saving the turtles. Taking a minute to power down your laptops, TVs, speakers, and smart devices saves energy AND reduces the field of bad actors who can attack you. Though it’s not impossible, it’s much more difficult to hack into a device that’s turned off than one that’s already on.

Plus, 3 “smart” things you should start doing right away:

1. Use a Password Manager. 

Using a reputable password manager will help you create strong passwords AND store them all in one safe place, so you don’t forget them. If your company gives you access to a password manager, you can use that same tool to manage personal passwords outside of work.

2. Opt for MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) whenever possible.

Using the combination of, “something you have” (e.g., a token or key) + “something you are” (e.g., biometrics), is a HUGE improvement over relying on just “something you know.” (Once know what you know, it’s game over.)

3. Take a moment to ask ‘why.’

When someone asks you for information, ask yourself why they need it – and what they could potentially do with it. Trust but Verify. Taking just a moment to put common sense over convenience could save you a ton of time, energy, and regret in the long run.

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About the Author:

Andre Mintz

As RV's CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) and CPO (Chief Privacy Officer), Andre’s mission is to protect the three most important aspects of Red Ventures: its people, its data, and its reputation.

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