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Internet users put private data at risk using sloppy practices

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 27, 2017


Many Americans don’t trust companies or institutions — particularly the federal government and social media sites — to protect their personal information.

It’s not hard to understand why.

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, some two-thirds of Americans have fallen victim to at least one kind of data theft or fraud. That includes 41 percent with fraudulent charges on their credit cards, 35 percent who received notice about a data breach, 16 percent who had their email accounts hacked, 13 percent who had a social media account taken over and 14 percent who had someone try to take out a loan or credit in their name.

Ironically, despite their concerns, many people continue to be careless when it comes to their own online habits, Pew found.

For example, 41 percent of adults say they’ve shared a password to an online account with a friend or family member, while 39 percent say they use the same or a very similar password for many different accounts. And 25 percent admit to using easy-to-crack passwords so they can remember them.

Pew’s findings did not come as a surprise at the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.

"Education is a never ending effort," said Doug Johnson, senior vice president of risk management for the association.

He said it was the duty of financial institutions to help customers protect their personal information.

Americans also find it challenging to safely keep track of an ever-growing list of passwords.

While cybersecurity experts generally advise using password management software as the safest way to store and keep tabs on multiple accounts, just 12 percent of internet users said they did so, Pew found. Password management programs — such as Dashlane, LastPass, Sticky Password and Password Boss — securely store and organize passwords, and can generate strong, unique passwords for each secure website that users visit.

Pew also found that large numbers of people are using risky ways to remember passwords — such as writing them on a piece of paper, saving them in a note on a computer or mobile device, or saving them in their web browser.

The bankers association is in favor of people using password management software.

"Clearly, it is becoming more and more difficult and inconvenient to control and remember your passwords," Johnson said. "They need to be protected in an encrypted file."

For anyone using a smartphone, the association recommends protecting it with technology that requires a fingerprint or password for access. "In case you lose it, no one can get into it," Johnson said.