It’s Personal: What We Learned About Security in 2014


You know an issue reaches true mainstream consciousness when it becomes fodder for late night comedians. So it was fascinating for me when I saw that Jimmy Kimmel used a portion of his monologue on January 16th to call out poor personal password behavior.

He used the news of the Obama administration’s proposals for new standards that would better protect us from data breaches to make the case that the responsibility starts with us. As he states in his monologue:

“It’s great the government is working on this, but the truth of the matter is that we need to do a better job of protecting ourselves.”

To prove the point, his team conducted impromptu interviews with people on the street to ask, “What is your password?” While many of them didn’t answer the question directly, they eventually revealed enough personal information that would make it simple for sophisticated hackers to guess them.

I was glad that the laughter from the audience during the piece was muted, because this subject is no joke. We’re seeing that data breaches are only becoming more prevalent and widespread. In fact, four out of 10 companies were hacked in 2014. More importantly, we learned just how harmful these breaches can be to the everyday consumer.

Financial Harm and More

More victims of digital hacks are stepping forward to share their personal stories with the media. A case in point is this story in The Guardian about a woman in the U.K. whose Skype account was taken over by hackers, and used to extort money from her friends. What led to this hack was a common password mistake that many consumers make – using the same, easily crackable password on multiple accounts (in her case, for 15 years!)

A more troubling example is the account of an anonymous Sony Pictures employee, who discussed the personal nature of the attack and the fact that the victims needed to change the passwords for their health insurance websites. As the person states, “It’s taken a toll, mentally—do I have to worry about someone getting a random medical procedure with my benefits?”

Let’s play out this scenario further. If your health insurance accounts are compromised, the damage can range from you being responsible for the cost of medical procedures you didn’t order, to information like blood type or drug allergies being altered in your records. Now we’re talking life and death.

So, what did we learn about security in 2014? I think Jimmy Kimmel said it best: “We need to do a better job of protecting ourselves”. The good news is now there are apps that make changing our personal online security behavior easy and hassle-free.