What’s Lurking in Your Home and Putting Your Identity at Risk?

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What’s Lurking in Your Home and Putting Your Identity at Risk?

There has been much discussion recently about Melbourne‘s local councils introducing changes to rubbish bin collections, including the introduction of a new bin for glass. 

So, many households will now have four bins to sort and put out each week. 

Depending on where you live, some councils have floated only a fortnightly collection for garbage (aka. the ‘red bin’).

But for all the talk of sorting, recycling and doing your bit to reduce landfill, no one is actively talking about the dangers of what you put in your bins.

I mean, there is a fair chance you’ve innocently thrown out an old USB stick, bank statement or maybe even a printer. 

However, these everyday items you use at home are overlooked as a potential security data breach. 

Let’s take that USB stick you casually tossed in the rubbish bin…did you check it for sensitive information before throwing it away?

Honestly, you’re probably not as concerned with a disused USB drive as you might be about deleting your old laptop’s information before you sell it on Facebook Marketplace.

Regardless, you risk criminals stealing your personal information if you don’t erase and dispose of these six everyday household items correctly.

Used smartphones and tablets

It is said that most people replace their smartphones every two and a half years. Unsurprisingly, that is an incredibly massive amount of used smartphones containing personal data, possibly lying around in people’s homes. 

Imagine how much personal information our used mobile phones and tablets hold; many are synced to cloud services. 

Of course, the convenience of our smartphones to help us manage life extends to banking apps, monitoring our health, and even storing our grocery orders. 

With the evolution of chip technology, smartphones and tablets have become more advanced and capable of storing more information – everything from documents and spreadsheets to photos and 4K video. 

People often donate their old smartphones and tablets to charity stores. Or place them in the garbage bins. You must adequately wipe your used phones and ensure all data is erased (restore factory settings).

Most importantly, it would be best if you did not dispose of electronics like smartphones and tablets in regular garbage. In Australia, you can dispose of your old technology at places like Officeworks, which offers a recycling program. 

Wireless printers

Most printers are connected wirelessly to your home or workplace network to allow you to print anywhere. But with convenient access comes increased risk to your data. For example, printers often store sensitive documents, such as tax returns or business contracts. And if you’re like most people, you don’t consider what security protections are in place for your printer, leaving them vulnerable to attack. 

Once an attack is underway, the cybercriminal can obtain any data from the printer and use it as leverage to attack other devices connected to the same network. 

You can guard against this by ensuring your printer’s firmware is updated, and you install updates as soon as possible. In addition, a straightforward way to stay safe is to switch off your printer when not in use to reduce the risk of cybercriminals accessing your network. 

USB Sticks

How often do you find a disused USB stick sitting in a drawer? Or next to your computer? You may have picked one up at a conference when they gave them away for free. You may even have borrowed one from a work colleague, and now you want to return it to them. 

But before handing it over, you should be sure to check what is stored on it first. 

However, you should never plug a USB device of unknown origin into your computer, as this is a traditional way a cybercriminal can access your network. For example, hackers have been known to plant malware on USB sticks and casually leave them around as bait. So when an unsuspecting person finds it to use, they plug it into a device and then the malware infects it.

Disused external hard drives

Critically, when you want to dispose of an old computer or removable drive, you must ensure it’s clean. All personal data stored in the system and program files must be deleted. In addition, you must ensure all kept personal data that a browser, such as Safari or Google Chrome, may have, is erased. Browsers often store information like passwords, credit cards and browsing history, which a hacker can use maliciously. To be safe, you should seek assistance from an IT professional to erase your hard drive for safe disposal, donation, or to be reused. 

Use a shredder

With the surging increase in online identity theft and cyber-attacks, hackers could fool you into thinking you only need to be concerned about online safety. But old-fashioned crime still occurs daily in your neighbourhood, including rummaging through your garbage bins. 

Identity theft from what you throw out in the trash is common, so you must take steps to protect yourself. For example, you may consider an offer from your bank for a pre-approved credit card as “junk mail.” 

But there is sufficient information in these letters to help establish your identity. Other documents you should be cautious with include bank statements, data from the Australian Tax Office (ATO), superannuation and health insurers – any information criminals could use to form your identity. 

You should invest in a shredder to destroy sensitive documents and information to protect yourself. A small investment in a shredder can save you from a costly incident down the track.

The kid’s internet-of-things (IoT) devices and toys

Hopefully, the days of building blocks and wooden train sets are not behind us. But kids today have a variety of Wi-Fi toys connected from electronic bears, kids-designed smart watches…even Barbie! 

Recent media reports found Mattel’s Hello Barbie enabled the theft of personal information. And worryingly, a hacker could also use its microphone to spy on families.

That’s why taking precautions is essential when using these toys with children. Cybercriminals focus on IoT devices and toys as they are seen as soft targets and easy to breach. 

It pays to be wary of any new internet-connected devices you bring into your family home, including the kids’ toys. Be sure to install all firmware updates and take extra steps before purchasing to research if there have been any recent breaches involved in that toy or device.

Are you concerned about your home and business IT security?

Let us help you with an audit of your existing IoT devices to ensure you’re safe online. 

We offer guidance on protecting your business networks and advise on cyber threats you should be aware of. 

About the author

Yener is the founder and Managing Director of Intuitive IT. Prior to running his own business Yener worked for a number of corporate organisations where he gained invaluable experience and skills, as well as an understanding of how IT can complement and improve business outcomes.