Track the companies that matter to you. It's FREE! Click one of these fan favorites to get started: Apple; Google; Ford.



Win the War Against Identity Theft

Though the threat from a massive data breach at the Department of Veterans Affairs has been mostly neutralized, the war against identity theft rages on. Here's a list of the most recent skirmishes:

  • A Michigan man reportedly in possession of 112,000 customer records of Sentry Insurance has been caught trying to sell 36,000 of them to a U.S. Secret Service agent working undercover. The price? $25,000.

  • A public computer in the service of the city of Hampton, Va., accidentally published sensitive data on thousands of taxpayers, including Social Security numbers.

  • Recent research from Gartner shows that only 20% of U.S. banks are in compliance with federal guidelines for securing data.

Discouraged? You should be. Clearly, our public institutions are operating without needed body armor, which leaves consumers exposed on the front lines.

Enough with the bad news
But, hey, let's try to be a little optimistic. After all, it's only been a little more than 60 days since the appointment of former attorney Rick Romley as the VA's new Special Advisor for Information Security. Today, there's news of progress in his 100-day assignment: TheWashington Post reported Sunday that two arrests have been made in the VA security fiasco.

Bravo, Mr. Romley. But, please, don't rest easy. If press reports are to be believed, you and your colleagues still have much to do. Here are a few Foolish tips to make the remaining days more productive.

A lesson from the guy down the street
Few know security better than the defense contractors. There's a reason for this, of course. For Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , Goodrich (NYSE: GR  ) , and their brethren, poor security leads directly to poor earnings. That's why iPods and camera phones are banned from their buildings. And it's why you'll never see a Lockheed worker assigned to a classified project carting home a laptop whenever it suits him.

Why not actually enforce a similar policy at the VA? After all, the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters are spitting distance from Lockheed's Bethesda, Md., home. Surely someone there would be more than happy to help with the VA's reinvention effort.

Password plus
Simpler still would be to make sure password-protection guidelines are strictly enforced, for systems and files alike. Reports from the VA Inspector General indicate that many VA employees do not even have the automatic session timeout feature activated on their computers. That's lazy, and it leaves veterans vulnerable to identity theft.

In my own life, I make myself jump through hoops to get at my information. If someone were to steal my PowerBook tomorrow, it would take more than a little time to hack into my financial life. I don't store passwords for the financial sites I use on my Mac. I re-enter the data for my bank, credit card, and brokerage sites every time. And good luck breaking into my Quicken files; they are password-protected with a unique combination that I don't use for any other software or service.

The Foolish bottom line
ID thieves are ruthless, clever, and completely uninterested in a cease-fire. Fortunately, our public institutions are slowly waking up to this truth. In the meantime, the casualty list grows. Don't become one of the fallen. Keep your tools close, and your passwords closer.

Of course, that's just the beginning. For other tips on keeping more of what you have, consider Motley Fool GreenLight. Our new newsletter service has everything you to need to know to live richly -- from how to make your credit profile look beautiful, to the banks for your bucks, to how to dress up your fund portfolio for a luxurious retirement. Click here to learn more.

This article was originally published on June 7, 2006. It has been updated.

Fool contributorTim Beyershopes none of the 26 million vets affected by the latest breach suffers at the hands of an ID thief. Stay vigilant, folks. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Foolprofile. The Motley Fool has an ironcladdisclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (0) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

Be the first one to comment on this article.

Compare Brokers

Fool Disclosure

Sponsored Links

Leaked: Apple's Next Smart Device
(Warning, it may shock you)
The secret is out... experts are predicting 458 million of these types of devices will be sold per year. 1 hyper-growth company stands to rake in maximum profit - and it's NOT Apple. Show me Apple's new smart gizmo!

DocumentId: 506674, ~/Articles/ArticleHandler.aspx, 10/21/2016 11:51:34 PM

Report This Comment

Use this area to report a comment that you believe is in violation of the community guidelines. Our team will review the entry and take any appropriate action.

Sending report...

Today's Market

updated 2 hours ago Sponsored by:
DOW 18,145.71 -16.64 -0.09%
S&P 500 2,141.16 -0.18 -0.01%
NASD 5,257.40 15.57 0.30%

Create My Watchlist

Go to My Watchlist

You don't seem to be following any stocks yet!

Better investing starts with a watchlist. Now you can create a personalized watchlist and get immediate access to the personalized information you need to make successful investing decisions.

Data delayed up to 5 minutes

Related Tickers

12/31/1969 7:00 PM
GR.DL $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Goodrich Corp CAPS Rating: ****
NOC $215.86 Down -1.50 -0.69%
Northrop Grumman CAPS Rating: ****