Monday, August 08, 2011

Survivor’s Guide

I was asked recently what technology skills and knowledge I felt were important for non-technical boomers to have in order to function in this increasingly complex and ever changing digital environment. Presuming that most of us will not be retreating to some desert island or isolated mountain top to live out our days, like it or not we will be faced with more and more technology incorporated into even the most mundane devices and activities. I am not sure that I can really give a list of skills that you may wish to develop but I can suggest some ways you can more safely navigates this new territory.

As much as we may fight it, our banks and merchants will continue to move almost exclusively toward an electronic payment system. For now it may continue to be based on plastic credit and debit cards but soon will include mobile phones and other digital wallets. It will be important to understand that these conveniences carry with them the need to be vigilant. While most of us would never leave a wallet or purse containing our money and credit cards on our desk or car seat, we may be much less concerned about our cell phone or lap top. Very often these devices contain our passwords and account numbers. Some miscreant can easily find them.

Speaking of passwords, a recent study found that more than 30% of mobile phone users never changed the default password for their mobile phone voice mail account if one was provided by the phone or service vender. These default passwords are well publicized and not changing yours is as bad as writing it on the back of the phone. While we are on the topic of passwords, using your kid’s name or your birth date for a password is also so prevalent that hackers try those first when trying to compromise your accounts.

Wifi hot spots are springing up all over. Gas stations, coffee shops, restaurants, libraries and the doctor’s office provide wireless Internet access. Using your smart phone or lap top to find directions, check the weather or the sports scores via public wifi hotspots is fine. Checking your bank balance or paying bills is not. These wifi networks can be hacked easily and everything you type can be intercepted by that sweet old lady sitting next to you.

Using these new digital tools will continue to get easier. Using them wisely and safely will continue to be more difficult.

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