Has your email been compromised?

Want to know if your email information has been leaked on the dark web? Many email addresses, and associated passwords, have been compromised in recent data breaches. A breach is an incident where data has been unintentionally exposed to the public. Criminals then often make lists of this information and place them on dark web sites for others to view in order to access your account and steal sensitive data (think: financial account information).

Use this link (listed again below) to enter your address (or any address you want to check). If you have been “p0wned” – a term meaning exposed – your first step is to change the password associated with that account.

Other important tips: Do not reuse passwords across accounts, and always use strong passwords. Get tips for creating strong passwords here.


What can I do to protect myself after Equifax?

I’m getting many questions from fellow CyberSavvy Parents out there who want to know the best recourse for protecting yourself and your credit after the massive breach announced earlier this month by Equifax.

A quick explainer if you’re not familiar with the breach I am referring to:

Equifax, a consumer credit reporting agency, reported earlier this month that cybercriminals had gained access to the personal information of approximately 143 million consumers. The information included social security numbers, addresses and other personal information that can be used to create credit accounts in your name and can also be sold for profit on the black market.

The answer to “what now?” is not that easy.  Some experts, like Terry Cutler, a security advisor who gets into suggestions in the video below, advise that you consider freezing your credit.  Freezing your credit is just what it sounds like: it puts a freeze on any new lines of credit that can be opened with your social security number.  You implement the freeze and you initiate the “unfreezing” of your credit as well with a personal identification number or other type of locking key/code that you establish when you initiate the freeze.

My issue with advising millions to freeze their credit is that this is not an easy on/off process and can be a headache, as explained in this article.  Is it an option? Yes. But don’t think it is a “quick fix” to your personal, sensitive information hanging out there for criminals to use.

More importantly: monitor your credit report vigilantly.  This was important before Equifax became headline news, and is now even more so.  If you have minor-aged children (and I assume if you’re reading this site you likely do), then check on their social security numbers too, frequently, to ensure there is no credit taken out in their names.  How do you do this? Unfortunately you need to take your inquiry back to the source of our headache: the credit reporting bureaus.  In addition Equifax, credit bureaus TransUnion and Experian need to be contacted to get a complete picture of what you have out there for credit lines.  All three bureaus also need to be contacted if you choose to freeze your credit.

I don’t promote specific products on this site, but there is the option of enrolling in a credit monitoring service for your entire family.  Google search for some options and do your homework before signing on to any service. And, no, I don’t recommend the service Equifax offered for “free” after they announced their breach. That was a public relations disaster of epic proportions and another topic for another day.

For today, my advice is what is often is: stay aware, be vigilant.  Keep on top of your credit accounts, bank accounts, loans, anything you have out there.  And look out for new lines you didn’t open. That includes your kids’ credit too.

These are tough times and the bad guys seem often to remain one step ahead of us when it comes to trying to take our good name, credit and money for their own nefarious purposes.  But be your own cyber warrior and be tough and aware.  Your best defense is always knowledge.



Fear not the hacker!

The term “hacker” has come a long way in the last decade. Once a word that conjured up shady images of a criminal trying to access systems or data for nefarious purposes, hacker has now taken on a different meaning (and, actually, it has several definitions these days). Hacker by today’s standards is actually a complimentary way to refer to someone with an expertise and/or skill. Traditionally, it has its roots in computer programming, but these days the word is used across many areas and topics. Much like the words “nerd” and “geek” have evolved to describe someone with an expertise or passion in a certain topic, so, too, has the word hacker.

Sure, we still see the words “hacked” and “hacker” in the news every day with negative connotations. Companies get hacked, information is stolen, data is breached, disastrous PR ensues for the businesses involved. But it’s not all gloom and doom for hackers. In fact, many hackers put their skills to many good uses these days, too. Computer and systems hackers are now working for organizations in new, ethical ways. Penetration testers, or White Hat hackers, are actually employed by companies in their security departments, or hired as consultants, to help uncover security vulnerabilities and shore up defenses. Being able to call oneself a hacker is actually an honorable thing in many contexts these days.

What does this mean for you as parents? It means hacking is no longer something to be feared. Becoming a hacker is something we should all aspire to. Culinary hacks can help us get tasty, more nutritious meals on the table in less time. Parenting hacks can assist with getting life to run a lot more smoothly (and peacefully) in your home. Math hacks offer clever ways to quickly figure out complex problems. Do you see where I am going with this? Hacking can offer helpful shortcuts to just about anything – and none of it needs to be unethical.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I am challenging all of you to start using hacks in your life every day. The next time you are contemplating how much you despise doing some daily, menial task – like laundry – I want you to search “laundry hacks” and find several, ingenious ways to make your weekly clothes-cleaning ritual more efficient. The next time you and the family are headed out on a long car trip, search for “car ride hacks” and find lists and lists of hacks and suggestions for making a 5 hour ride to grandma’s slightly less tedious. Again, hacking can be applied to just about anything.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of how hacking can play a role in everyday tasks in life, I want you to start applying it to technology, too. I am speaking particularly to those of you out there with a 7 year old that can make his way around a laptop or iPod better than you. If you want to be able to speak openly, honestly and authoritatively about what your child is doing online and on the computer, you need to know how that shiny little box works.

Search for Internet hacks and find fun new ways to browse the Web. Search Microsoft Excel hacks and suddenly you’re making your way around a spreadsheet like a CPA. What type of device is your family using? Search the name of the device and “hacks” and suddenly you’ve opened up a new world of shortcuts and tricks to using your device. For those of you who want to go further and find out what professional hackers are up to, there are games you can play to pretend to be a hacker.

Hacking is cool and fun. It sparks creativity and helps us solve problems. Get your kids involved and encourage them to explore new ways to hack things, too. I’m not advocating for ways to cheat at math homework or break into someone’s computer, but encouraging them to find ways to do things in a simpler or more innovative way when appropriate. When you’re hacking, you’re also learning – and any cyber savvy parent can get on board with that.

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