May 11, 2015
Your credit cards and personal data are worth big money to criminals, and that’s created a market for products that are touted to help keep your digital data safe from stealthy thieves. Here’s our run-down of some of the data protection gadgets on the market so you can decide which devices are worth your dollars.
Ever see the Exxon Mobile commercial where the guy taps his keychain and conveniently pays for his gas without swiping his card? Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology chips allow for this transaction by wirelessly transmitting information from an RFID-enabled keychain or card to a reader in the gas pump. RFID chips are being integrated into credit cards and US passports since RFID chips are less susceptible to fraud and forgery.
On the other hand, imagine an RFID reader in the hands of a criminal, in a crowded train station with hundreds of people passing by. This fishing expedition, called “skimming,” gives him access to tons of credit card numbers. Safety mechanisms within the chips allow for only one credit card charge to be made with the stolen number, but one charge made to hundreds of credit cards can quickly add up.
That’s the scenario Silent Pocket had in mind when they designed their RFID-blocking wallets and bags. There are versions that protect one card for about $4 each, on up to large bags that protect all your stuff from $99.
Do you need to get one? The good news is that this kind of theft is still relatively uncommon. And there’s a low-tech solution: if you’re carrying two RFID-enabled cards, carry them together. The signals become interwoven and impossible to scan.
We’ve talked a bit lately about how unsafe Internet cafes and “free Wi-Fi” are, but sometimes you just need to get online. If you want to be able to browse safely on a free WiFi network, most experts will advise you to use a VPN network to mitigate the security concerns. However, setting up a VPN or proxy server is more complicated than the average user wants to deal with.
The ICloak Stik temporarily replaces your computer software with its own so you can browse anonymously. Simply power down your computer and plug in the device to your computer’s USB port, and then power up your computer. Press and hold the boot key and your computer will boot to the device, allowing you to browse privately. Web pages don’t have access to your computer – they see only the ICloak Linux drive, keeping the data stored on your machine safe from the prying eyes of others that may be sharing the same public WiFi, as well as safe from malware, spyware, and key-logger software. When you’re done online just power down your PC, pull out the USB stick and the browser activity disappears. The basic version runs $50, while the “Pro” version is $100 and gives you Word & Excel compatibility and password management
I recently spent some time in an airport, and the close proximity to other travelers made me a bit wary about snooping eyes looking at my screen. Privacy screen filters are designed to disguise your screen when viewed from any angle other than straight-on. Ideal for keeping sensitive work documents on your laptop protected from unwanted viewers, they’re available for mobile devices and tablets too. 3M’s website offers an exhaustive selection of products and sizes for just about every screen out there.
Many security experts tout the value of fingerprint readers as they allow you to use your fingerprint instead of a password, offering a more secure login and freedom from ever again having to remember all your passwords. Some newer phones like GalaxyS and iPhone 6 come with fingerprint scanners built in, and you should take advantage of the security benefits.
When choosing a stand-alone reader, assess the size and weight. Travelers won’t want to lug a big bulky device around. Due to the large selection of models on the market, review the opinions of users and professional hardware reviewers to find a product with a reliably accurate reader. For Windows users, I like Zvetco Biometrics’ Verifi readers, starting at $60 for the P2000. They offer reliable scanners with a sturdy metal build, while retaining a relatively lightweight design.
Finally, any college student, frequent traveler or coffee shop connoisseur could benefit from a laptop lock. Think bike lock for your notebook PC. The Kensington ClickSafe Combination Laptop Lock uses a combo so you don’t have to worry about losing your keys. It works with both PCs and Macs by attaching a steel-composite cable to the Kensington Security Slot, found on 99 percent of notebooks. It also works with many flat panel monitors, desktop PCs, projectors, printers, docking stations, tablet PCs, etc. The cable is about six feet long, so you can secure your laptop to a stationary, secure object nearby. The next time the barista calls out your latte order, you can step away from your laptop without a worry.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds On Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair service for homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.