Think before you share

Posted: November 9, 2015

By Yule Edwards

Wake UpHackers got into the accounts of 1827 Vodafone UK customers last week, accessing victims’ bank sort codes, the last four digits of their bank accounts, their names and phone numbers. A Vodafone spokesman said in a statement that the incident was driven by criminals using email addresses and passwords acquired from an unknown source external to Vodafone.

An attack like this demonstrates just how vulnerable we are as consumers. Telcos and other service providers require all sorts of personal and private information from us, including our banking details. This is understandable protection for organisations and key for their own surety, but from a customer perspective, we happily provide the information as it gives us the convenience of monthly debits.

“We live in a society today where we’re paying for convenience at the cost of our privacy,” says Mornay Walters, founder and CEO of Seecrypt, developers of an encrypted communication system for enterprise and personal use, using military software. “Your information is used covertly and you may not even know about it,” he says. “It is sold on the open market over and over again and you simply have no idea where it’s going or what it’s being used for.”

Organisations like Vodafone are highly regulated and there is accountability to customers by the mere fact that they are legislated to adhere to laws of privacy and the protection of their customers’ information. An attack like this is out of our hands, as consumers, and there is nothing a client could have done to protect themselves from having their information accessed in this instance. However, there needs to be greater awareness of how freely we hand out our information, says Eleanor Potter, Consumer Executive at Autopage. “Credible organisations do everything they can to protect themselves and their customers, but people also need to wizen up to the fact that their data is valuable and opens the door to all sorts of fraudulent activity. As users, we need to take some responsibility for our privacy.”

Wi-fi networks are easily hacked, for example – Google has all the detailed instructions – but as consumers we go into a coffee shop and blithely request the password, creating an opening for access to all the information on our devices. “How many of us has antivirus on our phones? How conscious are we about what we put on social media?” asks Potter. “We protect ourselves too little and we give out our information too freely.”

“It is impossible not to leave a digital footprint,” say Walters, “however it is possible to protect your privacy. In real life, if you’re in your house and you see someone on the outside observing you, you’d close the curtain. This is a harmless example, but online, your private information can be replicated and abused, damaging your reputation and possibly your bank balance.”

The hacking at Vodafone was out of consumers’ hands, but if such organisations are being hacked allegedly by teenagers, consumers need to become far more wary of how they expose their personal information.