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Jeb Bladine: Hackers can feast in holiday seasons

Three words can instill worldwide fear among individuals and organizations: “We’ve been hacked!”

Hackers have accessed hundreds of millions of records through Yahoo, Equifax, eBay, Target and LinkedIn, just to name a few. Individuals connected to commercial, government and institutional systems are easy prey. Even voting systems, critical utilities and national security programs are at risk.

Last week I joined that long list of victims.

Actually, most of us have had personal information collected by hackers for years. After all, we blithely turn it over to unseen recipients through Autofill computer forms, somehow forgetting we are laying down bread crumbs for hackers to follow.

It can result in stolen debit and credit card numbers, fraudulent purchases and extended identity theft. Results range from the minor inconvenience of replacing a compromised bank card to continuing engagement with Whack-a-mole assaults on personal privacy and security.

Hopefully, my Thanksgiving weekend realization was early, as hackers often engage compromised systems over holidays when people aren’t watching computer vulnerabilities. However, computer moles planted before the holiday siege may still be in place.

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Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Ever walk into a house that has just been ransacked? If so, you know the feeling of violation I felt when I first saw fraudulent transactions via an online banking account. My victim mentality, however, turned into acknowledgment of personal culpability:

Too many online accounts with too many similar user names and passwords. Too much sensitive information saved in computer files for easy reference. Too many shortcuts created for quick access.

But those mea culpas quickly dissolved into immediate action.

A call to one institution locked down two compromised accounts. I then changed dozens of passwords I’ve used to access computers and myriad online accounts. And I committed to changing my habits going forward in recognition that I can’t just cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Feel free to join me in a continuing process of unplugging personal security threats.

Change and diversify passwords. Keep a close eye on financial transaction accounts. Seek technical help to any suspected hack into your computer.

If suspicious, contact one of three major credit bureaus to request placement of a fraud alert, designed to notify you whenever someone applies for credit with your identity. You might also consider engaging an identity theft service and converting personal data from digital back to paper and snail mail.

Finally, tell family and friends you’ve been hacked. With so much interconnectivity in today’s world, we’re all in this together.

 Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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