Home > Identity Theft > The Lie That Could Keep You Safe From Hackers

Comments 0 Comments

The hack that created millions of morally challenged voyeurs—and, depending upon which celebrity they downloaded, child sex offenders—also provided us with a teachable moment. It exposed the use of security questions in online authentication as a quaint artifact of an antiquated Internet culture.

We talk a lot about personally identifiable information (PII) in the data security business, but rarely do people realize exactly what that can include, and how much of that information is readily accessible online—not to mention how much PII they may be unwittingly putting out there in the overheated look-at-me world of social networking. For celebrities who are profiled and interviewed all the time, PII is everywhere.

As the smoke clears from this latest attack on privacy and our collective sense of decency, it’s becoming more and more likely that a deft use of personally identifiable information was used to unlock the nude celebrity photo troves that flooded the Internet with requests for all those ill-gotten images and videos.

Specifically, it appears the hacker (or hackers) targeted their victims in a mechanical way. The specifics are still unknown, but a good guess would be that whoever was behind the attack started with an email address and drilled down into specific iCloud photo folders using PII gleaned from material readily available online to answer security questions.

Even if it turns out that this was not the way it happened here, it’s time for a little moral jiu-jitsu to neutralize the threat of PII-based attacks. But before I say another word, it’s imperative you bear in mind that there is no fix here. Identity theft and data-related crimes are the third certainty in life. They vie for primacy with death itself. You are going to get got, and you may even get got taking my advice—but you owe it to yourself to make yourself as safe as you can. The wolves of cybercrime pick off the weakest among us first. Regularly monitoring your credit scores, credit reports and financial accounts can help you catch an identity thief quickly (you can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com), and smart account security can make you a less-attractive target for hackers.

So what should you do? Lie. You heard me—lie through your teeth. Fabricate, prevaricate, dissemble and say things that resemble nothing that might be construed as being even the slightest bit truthful regarding the particulars of your life. Lie like you were in a nose-growing contest with Pinocchio.

Mark Twain once famously said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Wise advice, but he didn’t know anything about hackers, PII or online security questions. If the flood of hacked celebrity nude photos of late taught us anything, it’s that security questions must always be answered with lies. When creating answers to your security questions, it’s all about consistency — not veracity.

The fact of the matter is that any site containing anything of value that belongs to you—whether photos or finances—should safeguard that data on encrypted servers protected by multifactor authentication. It’s definitely time to get rid of the challenge-answer formulas, and knowing the “right” secret image won’t protect you forever because a patient thief can guess as many single-try logins as are needed until they find the right answer. Lies can at least get you past “what you know” to something more like “what you created,” and for now that may be your best bet.

Of course it would be ideal if all the places we go online used better authentication protocols (and that’s where things are headed), but in the meantime—whether you sext or not—consider the lie. Have some fun with where you were born, or who your favorite guitarist is, all the while keeping the wolves at bay—or at least out of your personal files.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: Roman Barelko

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team