Bo here, CEO and Founder of Debix and AllClear ID.  It’s everywhere!  Just in the past four months – since the start of 2011 – we’ve witnessed major data breaches and security incidents that have affected millions of consumers.  Here at AllClear ID, we talk to customers every day who are concerned about protecting their identity, especially online, so I want to share the 3 things everyone needs to be aware of to protect their online information.

User Names and Passwords

Your first line of defense is to have unique user names and passwords for each account you have for both websites and desktop applications that access the internet.  This includes  email, Facebook, online banking, retail accounts, Twitter, and electronic gaming accounts.   Get out of the habit of using the same password across multiple accounts and start using strong passwords that have 14 characters, special symbols, and a mix of lowercase and capital letters (see our recent blog post about tips to create a strong password).  There are also some good password manager tools available that make it easy to manage and store passwords securely.

Securing your accounts with strong passwords is critical.  As we’ve seen with some recent breaches, email addresses have been stolen in large quantities.  And many of our personal accounts use email address as the user name.  Once a hacker has your email address, all they have to do is send a “phishing” email to get your password, and they’re in your account.  If you use that same password across multiple accounts, you’ve just put much more information at risk than just the one hacked account.

Be Aware of Phishing

This term has been a hot topic in recent months.  Tech industry authority ComputerWorld defines Phishing as “a technique used to gain personal information for purposes of identity theft, using fraudulent e-mail messages that appear to come from legitimate businesses. These authentic-looking messages are designed to fool recipients into divulging personal data such as account numbers and passwords, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers.”

The best advice for avoiding becoming a victim of phishing is to be extremely careful: don’t click links in emails, instead type the brand or page you’re looking for into Google to find the information.  Don’t open attachments from senders you don’t know.  And don’t ever, ever, ever give out personal information like account numbers, Social Security number, or passwords, via email.

Make Sure Your Anti-Virus Protection and Operating System Updates are Current

If you DO ever find yourself in a situation where you’ve clicked a malicious link and it’s a virus or other malware, and you have current anti-virus protection installed on your computer, all hope is not lost.  If your anti-virus protection is up to date, then there is a very good chance of catching it before it does major damage to your computer and identity.  Be sure to check your program regularly to ensure it’s up to date, an out of date program may not be able to catch the latest threats.  (There’s virus protection for mobile phones now too!)

To keep your operating system at it’s most effective in fighting malware, be sure to install the most current, official updates.  Frequently, if you turn on automatic updates, most updates will download and install without you even knowing.

And don’t forget – your children are especially vulnerable to identity theft. Add to this their access to social networks and file sharing services, and they could inadvertently expose their and your identity information online.

Stay tuned to the AllClear ID blog for more tips, and also check out great resources from the FTC, Stay Safe Online, and the Identity Theft Resource Center.