Identity theft is an all-American scourge. More than 1.1 million Americans filed identity theft complaints in 2022 alone. Unfortunately, more cases occur but never result in reports, as many Americans fail to notice that people have stolen their identities.
While identity theft can be devastating, you don't need to fear it. You can take steps right now to prevent it from happening in the first place and protect your identity if it gets stolen. The key is understanding identity theft and coming up with concrete steps for prevention and protection. Here is your essential digital identity theft guide.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft takes place when an attacker uses your personal information to steal from you or pose as you for a malicious purpose. Identity theft may or may not be apparent immediately, and it may involve stealing only a few pieces of minor data collected from different sources. But someone can open an account in your guise or steal an account you own and harm your personal life.
A thief may have many reasons why they will steal your identity. Most thieves look for money, siphoning cash from your bank account or holding your information for ransom. Other thieves want to intimidate and humiliate their victims, leaking your sensitive information online.
Digital Identity Theft Prevention
Hackers have published over 500 million stolen passwords on the dark web since 2017. To keep your digital identity safe, you must take several steps immediately.
Change Your Passwords Regularly
You should change the passwords on your most important accounts several times a year. Make a strong password by using a code phrase. Pick a sentence that is easy to remember, write down the first letters in each word, and add numbers and special characters. Your password should be longer than 12 characters.
Use a Password Manager
A password manager can help you store your lengthy passwords and log into your accounts. However, a manager is not a perfect tool, not even for ransomware prevention. You need to use additional resources in order to prevent thefts and stop hijacked sessions in progress.
Enable Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is another useful yet imperfect tool for identity theft prevention. The best way to use MFA is to create physical objects like security tokens or keys to log into accounts. To enhance your remote work security, ask your employees to type in codes or information written on a keycard.
Prevent Man-in-the-Browser Attacks
Man-in-the-browser attacks are dangerous because they can bypass the above security measures. An attacker installs a Trojan horse on your computer that lets them eavesdrop on your web transactions. When you enter your password or MFA information, your details go to the attacker, letting them log into your accounts.
Signs of a man-in-the-browser attack include being logged out of an account suddenly or receiving login notifications from other locations. Most man-in-the-browser attacks start with phishing, so delete any emails with signs of phishing scams.
Use out-of-band authentication with verification methods in a separate communication channel. The channel can involve making a call from your personal phone or creating a voiceprint.
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Prevent Session Hijacking
Besides man-in-the-browser attacks, there are other ways that a hacker can hijack your session.
Cross-site scripting (XSS) takes place when an attacker injects client-side scripts onto your webpage. When your page loads, it contains the attacker’s malicious code, yet it looks legitimate. While using the page, the attacker gets access to your session ID.
Never click on any suspicious links. Many attackers use URL shorteners to make their links seem legitimate. Look at the link by hovering over it with your mouse and delete the message if you feel something is wrong.
Session fixation occurs when an attacker sets a session ID for you. They may send you a phishing URL or a false login form with a false session ID. Once you log in, they can hijack your session.
Your website should not allow session IDs to be made through URLs or forms. Do not tell others how your session IDs are made, and make sure your login pages and forms are secure.
Session side-jacking occurs when an attacker uses packet sniffing to monitor your traffic and steal your session cookies after you have authenticated yourself.
Attackers need access to your network to execute session side-jacking. Most cases of side-hacking occur over unsecured or public Wi-Fi networks. Never use a public Wi-Fi network to conduct business. You should also secure your company’s network with network encryption and up-to-date routers.
Predictable Session IDs
Many websites issue session IDs using predictable patterns. Once an attacker notices the pattern, they can guess your ID and hijack your session.
Generate your session IDs using unpredictable patterns. Do not include personal information like your IP address in your session ID.
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The Importance of Protecting Against Identity Theft
The FTC has received 5.7 million reports of identity theft thus far in 2023. Identity theft has a median loss of $500, which may sound small, but losing just $100 can affect how you cover your most essential expenses. The police catch very few thieves, so you may experience multiple thefts or acts of ransomware from the same person. In addition to digital identity theft, you can fall victim to medical and financial identity theft, which require their own prevention steps.
Yet protecting against most types of identity theft is easy and affordable. You don’t have to spend any money selecting a complex password and changing it every few months. Stay focused and try to find resources for identity theft prevention and protection.