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Data Security For Notaries: Protecting Your Critical Information

data protect

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the recent, high-profile hacks of Sony Pictures and various celebrity cloud accounts, it’s that data protection is a huge concern for everyone and their mothers — and mobile Notaries.

You may think you’re doing all you can to protect your data, but your everyday practices — from where you conduct business to the website passwords you choose on sites you frequent — may be placing you, your clients and signers at risk. Luckily, making small but significant changes in the way you conduct business can go a long way in protecting your data.


1. Exercise Extreme Caution When Using Public Wi-Fi


Libraries, coffee shops, airports and other places offering public WiFi access are prime trolling grounds for hackers. Even if you’re just stopping at your local Starbucks after a signing, you could be hacked if you access the WiFi to check email or update files.

If you need to use a public WiFi, there are steps you should take to protect your data. 

First, limit your Internet exposure to websites that are fully encrypted, meaning they “scramble” the information sent over the Internet, making it inaccessible to others. If the site you are using is not encrypted, hackers could hijack your session and access your information.

You can tell if a site is encrypted by its URL: They will always begin with ‘https,’ the ‘s’ standing for secure.

An even better strategy is to use only secure or password-protected wireless networks, which automatically encrypt all the information you send using the network. If you conduct a lot of business over public WiFi, consider investing in a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, which allows you to create a secure connection over a public Internet using your laptop or other devices.

The Federal Trade commission also advises against using any mobile apps requiring personal or financial information.

If you find yourself relying on public WiFi, follow these tips provided by the Microsoft Safety and Security Center:

  • Always run up-to-date antivirus and antispyware software on your computer.
  • Always turn off your wireless network if you are not using it.
  • Never turn off your firewall.
  • Never enter sensitive information, such as social security numbers, passwords, credit card information or other financial information on an unprotected site. Wait until you are on a secure website to do so.


2. Pick Powerful Passwords And Pins


With a mere combination of numbers and letters often providing your only level of defense against online predators, take your time when creating strong passwords that won’t be easily guessed, such as pet or children names, important dates like birthdays or anniversaries. Believe it or not, people still use passwords such as “password” and “123456,” (which SplashData deemed the worst password of 2013.)

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) offers helpful tips in its 10 Rules For Creating a Hacker-Resistant Password, such as:

  • Use different passwords on different accounts
  • Include special characters (ie., %, #, &) in your password, if supported by the site
  • Don’t use post-its taped on your monitor, or other obvious methods, to remember your passwords. Commit them to memory, keep your list of passwords locked away, or consider using a secure password manager. Also, consider sharing vital passwords with a trusted person or even a personal attorney, in case of an emergency.

The key to an impenetrable password, according to the PRC, is to create one that is memorable to you, without being easily retrievable by potential thieves:  

“Think of a favorite line of poetry, like ‘Mary had a Little Lamb,” the PRC recommends. You can then use the first or last letters of the poem to create your passwords, using both upper and lower case letters for added security. Your password, using this example, could be “MhaLL.” Using numbers can make it even stronger: “MhA2L.” The longer the string, the harder the password is to crack.                                                 


3. Make ‘Back It Up’ Your New Personal Mantra


If you’ve ever fallen victim to a computer “crash” resulting in lost work, data, or even precious memories, such as irretrievable photos, you know how critical it is to back up your system. Data lost to a system failure can be just as devastating as that lost to a thief.

The most obvious preventative measure is to back up your files regularly — experts suggest at least once a week, if not more often. You can use an external hard drive, or utilize the back-up capabilities already installed on your computer. Macs and PCs feature backup utilities within their operating system, which you can learn more about with a Mac or Windows tutorial.

You can also use a cloud or Internet-based backup system such as Carbonite or ZipCloud. The University of California, Davis offers a list of questions you should ask before choosing a service.

If you have hard-copy documents or hard drives containing critical data, store them safely in a lock box or safety deposit box.

“Keep a list of all of your software serial and registration numbers in safe, off-site locations,” advises Howard Blum, owner of Pro Mobile Notary. “That way, even if everything crashes and you have to manually reinstall all your software packages, you'll have the numbers in a safe place.”

If you find yourself the victim of a data breach, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers a helpful fact sheet guiding you on the next steps to take.

Kelle Clarke is a Contributing Editor with the National Notary Association.

Related Articles:

Personal Safety: Four Ways Signing Agents Can Protect Themselves

Certified Signing Specialist Code of Conduct: Guiding Principle 6

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1 Comment

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18 May 2015

I always save all of my files on my USB drive. I never save anything to my computers hard drive because I've been through enough computer failures to know better!

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