Personal data security and porn star names

It may have escaped your notice somehow but towards the end of last year we had some trouble with personal data going missing here in the UK. Why low-ranking people had access to all of this information and why it was transmitted unencrypted and using unregistered mail is a discussion for another time.

I was of the same opinion as Jeremy Clarkson in that there wasn’t much that an identity thief could do should they get hold of my bank account number and sort code other than altruistically deposit money into my account.

I must follow suit again and admit to being wrong too. However I doubt that I would publish my bank account details in a national newspaper.

I’m glad that Mr. Clarkson did have the courage of his convictions as it as highlighted a weakness in the banking system in my view. This Direct Debit issue is weaker than the vulnerability that led to the much-maligned Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode schemes (also known as 3-D Secure). If something is introduced then I hope that there is more of an effort to educate customers (as there was with Chip and PIN) and more forethought than there was for these new 3-D Secure technologies.

Generally, shopping online is safer than buying over the phone than as long as you follow some common sense steps. Shop at reputable retailers and make sure everything is done over a secure (SSL) connection. This is indicated by a few things depending on which Internet browser you use:

  • The website address (URL) should start with https:// instead of the normal http://
  • Sometimes the address bar itself will change colour
  • There will usually be a padlock icon somewhere on the browser
  • You can normally click this icon for more detailed information

Keeping your personal details safe is equally important. A separate password for each website is recommended but is no longer practical these days with so many to remember. Most modern Internet browsers come with a password safe that will keep track of all of your passwords with the use of one master password. If you do this then make sure that your master password is obscure and contains a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and even some punctuation for good measure.

When asked for your mother’s maiden name, the name of you first pet or other personal detail then do not use your real information. Even for your bank. It’s fine – they won’t check. Use your favourite female literary character, the name of your teddy bear and the date that your team last won the cup for example. That way when someone (innocently or otherwise) asks you your porn name (usually quoted as the name of first pet and mother’s maiden name – staple questions of banking security for years) you haven’t just given them anything that would help steal your identity.

Call me paranoid if you want but I know I’m safer this way.

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