If your household is anything like mine then you’ve probably noticed that the number of internet-enabled devices you own is steadily increasingly.
From smartphones to iPods, fridges to smart TVs, the number of devices that either rely upon, or at least use, the net is exploding.
The number and range of connectable devices poses potential security issues itself – I’m sure you’ve heard of the Internet of Things by now – but it also encourages users to get online more often than before. As such, there is a likelihood that you visit more websites than ever before. That, combined with the increase in the number of sites that encourage user registration, means you may well have a significant number of online accounts.
Even if you don’t sign up for accounts at news and entertainment sites, you’ll likely still have several so that you can check your online banking, pay your credit card bill over the net, top up your kids’ school dinner cards, etc.
Whilst many people feel quite comfortable having so many accounts, there are some associated risks.
Whenever you create an account, be it for personal reasons or in association with a business you run, you are handing your information to a third party. Whilst you can likely trust the organisation you’ve given that info to, you have very little control over how it safeguards it.
If you pay attention to security news then you will be aware that data breaches are being reported far more often than they have before, either because they actually are on the increase or simply because the media has picked up on them with greater frequency.
When a breach does occur, there is a very good chance that the attacker will gain access to your information. This could include your email address and password (hopefully you don’t use the same login credentials for every site you visit), home address, telephone number and maybe even credit card numbers or other sensitive data.
And, the more online accounts you have, the greater the risk that your information will one day be slurped by a breach.
So what can you do to lessen that risk?
I think the key thing here is to stay in control of your accounts. I mean, how many do you have? Do you even know? Can you remember where you opened accounts and the credentials you used when you created them? Which accounts have you opened and then never used, or left dormant for a long time?
You may be thinking that such a fear is over-exaggerated and in many ways it is – I don’t personally know anyone whose data has been compromised by a breach – but the risk remains and my belief is that it is increasing, and that the continual opening of new accounts simply brings forward the date when you will become the next victim.
Thats why I think we all need to pay attention to old accounts and even close them down when no longer required.
For instance, until recently I had a MySpace account which I created and then never actually used. I have no reason to think that MySpace would lose my data but, even so, was it worth keeping the account open and presenting one more location on the web from where my personal information could be gleaned? Of course not, and that is why I shut the account down.
If you are going to open online accounts that require your personal information as part of the signup process then you will need to keep track of them. I write them all down in a book so I can continually check which accounts I have and assess whether I still need them or not. Of course I do not write down the email addresses I signed up with and I definitely never write down passwords, but I do find it useful to keep a written record of the actual accounts I hold.
If you do similar or, even better, keep track of all your accounts by using a password manager, then you will be able to easily close accounts when they have served their purpose.
That way you have completely moved on from the old service and your data is not available anymore.
But that also raises another thought about opening up new accounts in the future – make sure that the website in question has in its service agreement a clause about erasing your data upon account closure – you want to make sure that they do not try to keep your data after your relationship with them has ended.