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Secure Your Sensitive Data

Written by Nickel - 11 Comments

Secure Your Sensitive Data

I recently ran across an interesting new story about Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who lost his Blackberry while in Las Vegas last fall. Apparently the couple who found it were trying to extort money out of him or they would sell the phone to the “highest bidder.”

According to the report, Berrian stores “financial and account information and his Social Security number on the device” as well as access codes to his home, photos of his daughter, and “other personal photographs and video [of himself] and third parties not intended for public distribution.

While it’s quite possible that he was most concerned about those “other” photos and videos getting out into the public eye, let’s just focus on the financial information. I can only assume that he was storing this information in the clear because, if it was properly secured, there would have be no reason for concern.

At the risk of stating the obvious, you should never store this sort of information in an easily accessible format. Whether it’s on your computer or (especially) on a smartphone, there’s a reasonable chance that your data could fall into the wrong hands due to hacking, loss, or theft.

Protecting my data

While I store all kinds of sensitive info (account #s, login credentials, etc.) on both my laptop and my iPhone, I protect it with an encryption program called 1password, which automatically syncs across platforms using DropBox, which is an onlne storage and synchronization service.

If I make a change in 1password on my computer, it automatically propagates to my iPhone, and vice versa. Either way, I’m able to manage and access this information whenever and wherever I need it without and security concerns.

What about you?

Do you have any tips for ensuring that your data is both easily accessible and secure?

Published on February 4th, 2011
Modified on February 10th, 2011 - 11 Comments
Filed under: Identity Theft

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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11 Responses to “Secure Your Sensitive Data”

  1. 1
    kev Says:

    My computer is locked down and my passwords are encrypted as well. Nothing is stored on my phone. I’m less concerned about data that is stored on my devices as I am about the stuff floating around in the wild though. A couple of days ago, my neighbor brought over some mail of mine that they had opened by mistake. It was one of my 1099-INT forms. So, there it was… They had the name of one my banks, the account number, and my social security number with a single piece of misplaced mail. Lucky for me they are honest, trust-worthy people.

    I think one of the most effective ways you can protect yourself is just by limiting the amount of physical mail you send and receive. Elect to get sensitive items such as statements and tax documents online whenever you can and pay as many bills electronically as possible. You can secure your online access – you can’t do that with the US Mail though.

  2. 2
    RC Says:

    Good reminder- I’ve been meaning to start using password protection for a while, thanks for the pointer about 1password and dropbox- just signed up w/ your link.

  3. 3
    Blaine Moore Says:

    Dropbox is a great application!

    Instead of 1password, though, I use LastPass. It has more features and works cross platform and cross browser.

  4. 4
    Chris Says:

    I keep an electronic list of all my account websites and passwords. The passwords, however, are all coded abbreviations. Just enough to trigger my memory because the actual passwords aren’t written down anywhere.

  5. 5
    Dave Says:

    Microsoft Excel 2007. I can create whatever structure I want, break information into categories using row formatting, tabs, etc. Typically use at least a 16-character very strong password for it.

    I also obfuscate some of the info in there. I usually only need a memory jogger for most things, so I may for example use a mnenomic for a password or only the first or last 3 or 4 digits for an account number, etc.

    I’ve also recently started using Pismo File Mount at home. I moved all my financial paperwork (several years of tax returns, the above spreadsheet, etc) into an encrypted .PFO file that I can then right-click and enter (another very strong) password to mount as a folder or drive to access the information. It is ridiculously simple and easy to mount the file and turn it into a viewable folder or drive only when I need it.

    It actually took more effort writing this than it did to set this system up. I won’t lie and say my wife and I would sleep soundly and not worry if my laptop were stolen, but at least we would know that I took the most precautions I possibly could to minimize our exposure.

  6. 6
    krantcents Says:

    Although I do not have a smart phone, it seems like common sense. I have password protection on my computer to safeguard my information and maintain anti virus protection. Money does not equal smarts.

  7. 7
    Master Allan Says:

    I enjoy using the free program password safe. Working in IT with servers there are numerous passwords changing on frequent rotation and I can’t keep up. I love the feature and keep the program on a flash drive with my passwords, account #s, frequent flyer #s, and other bits & pieces of encrypted data important to me alone.

    Only regret is not using the program sooner and telling all my friends.

  8. 8
    Funny about Money Says:

    Wow! That’s the dumbest story I’ve heard to date…what on earth could the guy have been thinking?

    I use Stone Age technology for keeping sensitive information. Well…slightly later than that: pre-Gutenberg, though. I have a binder tricked out as an address book. Stashed in the back, behind page after page after page of telephone numbers for workmen, doctors, dentists, vendors, friends, and acquaintances, is a section holding passwords and other sensitive data.

    I figure the burglar will steal my computers and external drives but probably won’t look twice at some old lady’s address book.

  9. 9
    George Says:

    Self-inflicted pain.

    Does the blackberry not have a password feature for the phone like every other smartphone in the universe? iPhone has it, iTouch (which isn’t a phone) has it, all of the Android phones have them.

    Set a password on the phone and a number of attempts before all data is erased. If you can’t remember a 4 digit pin code for your own phone then you probably shouldn’t own one.

    Had the guy done this, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  10. 10
    Dave Says:

    @Funny about Money

    People may laugh but that is actually fairly sound reasoning. I read before about a top-tier computer security professional (can’t recall his name now, but he is very well known in those circles) who was asked how he secured his passwords. His response was that he wrote them down and kept them in his wallet. The interviewer was shocked, but his reasoning was that he had a lifetime of experience keeping his wallet secure and on his person at all times and he completely trusts his system.

  11. 11
    Eric Says:

    I use 1Password too but I don’t do any financial things on my phone. Still iffy about doing mobile banking. I can wait until I get home.

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