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With technology becoming part of our everyday life, cyber threats are becoming more prevalent every year.

Christmas shopping is over, and the new year almost here. People are reviewing their time on Facebook and sharing family photos on Instagram. 

With all this joy and celebration, people are using their new smartphones, tablets and other devices to connect and share information, unaware of the constant threats to their cyber security.

The IRS reports that in 2015 there is an expected increase in identity fraud and personal information stolen — a trend that has continued over the past three years. In 2013, there was a 66 percent increase in claims and investigations. Nearly all of the new ones can be attributed to online fraud and hacking.

In a recent local arrests, Adrian Summersett of Alvarado was charged with multiple counts, including falsification and forgery of government IDs, Alvarado Police Chief Brad Anderson said. Summersett had been making copies of her driver’s license and putting other people’s information on it — a common form of identity theft, according to the IRS. Officials believe that she obtained most of the information online and not in person, though this is unconfirmed, Anderson said.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, identity theft and cyber threats can be prevented if the right steps are taken and smartphone devices are taken as seriously as leaving your wallet in a public place. Devices such as a smartphone are a simpler version of a computer that can be prone to attacks like a PC. 

On Android devices this is particularly prevalent as they run an open-source software platform where anyone can develop programs and applications with almost no standards. Google — who develops the Android operating system — has given it standards and some control to prevent malicious software from being distributed. Though this has not prevented, some issues from slipping through the cracks. 

According to AndroidCentral.com, there have been three applications that made it onto the Google Play store which were ineffective virus protection applications. There also have been two applications that installed malware on devices to sift through data to send false emails.

All five of those applications were removed and patched by Google quickly and Google is exploring new options to prevent malicious software from getting on their Play Store, while keeping their platform open-source.

Apple devices — called iOS devices — are closed off to only approved developers. According to 9to5Mac.com, this has yielded a great number of successful applications and fewer issues with viruses and malware in the Apple ecosystem. Though Apple has had its own security issues with software bugs, they are able to get out security fixes much easier than Android, because of the controlled nature of the products. 

TheVerge.com reports that the main issue in cyber hacking is not that the platforms are allowing viruses, but the applications are not as secure as consumers perceive them to be. Most applications like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter collect your information, such as location and other important Internet technical data, allowing hackers to track you and find your information much more readily. Most people who use social media do not consider the features within the application to be harmful, but they are storehouses of information hackers can use to find weaknesses and personal information. 

According to the IRS, the largest causes of identity theft are passwords and email scams. 

 

How often should an email 

password be changed? 

Once every month is the recommendation of most email hosts such as Google Mail, as it allows you to keep passwords fresh and safeguard your email. Consumers get comfortable and do not change their passwords for months, and some even years, said Jon Brodkin of ArsTechnica.com.

 

How are 

passwords stolen? 

A guide recently published by CNET and Wired Magazine said that sometimes it is by error that keeping information on a digital medium, allows them to be harvested easily. When you are using your email over unprotected Wi-Fi — such as a coffee shop’s free Internet — it is easy for someone on the same Wi-Fi or nearby to monitor the incoming and outgoing web traffic of an Internet signal. In simple terms, hackers can piece together bits of information over a long period of time on any connection, an unprotected connection will compromise your data much faster.

According to Wired, if you do not change your passwords, when you enter them the data will become consistent and allow hackers to piece together your passwords. Your browser is not safe either, with the same information being used on a browser and saved as a means to save time, they are far more susceptible to being hacked. It is even worse if the same password is used for every secure account.

 

How should you create 

a password?

Passwords should be longer than shorter and use unique characters other than numbers and letters — such as !, @, $, #, & — to fill in parts of a password. Using made up words also helps. Break the habit of wanting to use familiar names in the password. Capitalizing and mixing lower and uppercase letters also adds complexity to the encryption of the password.

Using names like family or friend names also can compromise security as this information is readily available on social media and will be easily found by anyone that is trying to steal your identity.

A few good examples: @Jore#16, $tual&_ , %qReto$.

A few bad examples: bob2, john13, rickiscool

Some intermediate choices: @johnT09, Bear&joan41, Third#isImportant!

According to the DHS, bank and credit accounts are just as important as your email, as they contain perhaps your greatest defense on saving your identity. 

These companies are often equipped to handle claims of identity theft much more easily than if an individual filed it themselves with the IRS.

According to a Pew research poll, the areas where people lose their identities most often are on eBay and other online shopping sites, most of these sites make an effort to protect your information but often are subjects of hacks themselves. Some less reputable sites are known to be full of spyware and malware to harvest your data. 

Always research a company before buying from them online. 

Recently the hacks of Sony and Microsoft over their entertainment networks has resulted in only inconvenience, but in the past several people have had their credit information compromised. 

When large companies are hacked, it is best to change your passwords on those sites to prevent back doors into your credit card information.

Guarding your security online with your new smartphones and tablets can be tricky with all the new threats out online, but with attention and the willingness to take a few steps to prevent fraud, the average consumer can be assured that they will be kept safe for the coming year.

Cyber security threats: What to watch for

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