Last week was National Tax Security Awareness Week and you can be forgiven if you forgot to include that as part of your holiday season celebrating. You can also, however, be forgiven if you used it as an excuse to have some cake, because, well, cake.
Let’s start with just accepting the fact that this happened as good news. The IRS and state tax agencies remain constantly vigilant about securing data and retaining confidence in their transactions and activities. And sure, one could be cynical and say this is in their own best interest, and it is, but it is also in the interest of every taxpayer. So in the interests of continued security, I wanted to hit upon a few highlights brought up during the week that all should keep in mind.
A big one is the increase this year of people who are working from home and how this could add some new vulnerabilities. If you always worked in an office where there were company measures being taken to protect sensitive information, you may have never given a thought to how that protection takes place. If now you are handling this at home, you must take on some of the onus to maintain safety. So make sure you have given some thought to this, and if you have not, ask your employer what steps you should be taking on your personal machines to make sure all is as it should be.
When it comes to thinking of one’s machines, too, this does not only mean computers. If you are looking at company email on a cell phone, it is also a machine where information is passing through. A simple thing to remember here is that when those annoying notifications pop up to upgrade your phone’s software, do it. These almost always will include some increased security measures and help you at least stay a little bit ahead of the game.
On the more personal protection side, give a little extra attention to where your computer is pointed when you shop online. If you are going to complete a credit card transaction on a site, make sure it has a web address that begins with “https” (the S is for secure communications) and look for the padlock icon in the address bar.
This time of year lends itself to some other schemes, too, as we shop more online. Recently I read about people receiving calls from scammers claiming to be from Amazon speaking of large charges on their account and using this a way to get information out of them. And how many of us don’t have some activity going on in Amazon? This makes us already primed (pun fully intended) to think it’s not that wild that something is going on with our purchasing on the site.
Finally, do not do any of this shopping or viewing of potentially sensitive information over public wi-fi networks. This an area you may not realize is a possible weak spot, but if you’re getting information over a network that did not require a password to access, assume that someone can see the information going through that network also without a password.
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