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Andrea Byrne: cyber security and my digital journey of discovery

Shocked: I found out some unpleasant truths about my own online security Photo: ITV Wales

We all like to think of ourselves as security conscious. We leave the house and we check the windows and doors are locked. We park the car and we hide expensive items from view. Many of us even shred our paperwork to destroy our personal details rather than throw them out with our rubbish. None of us wants to fall victim to a theft which might lead to our identity being used for fraudulent purposes and our money being stolen.

I discovered some big cyber worries of my own Credit: ITV Wales

But now there’s a new threat and new security issues to consider.

  • How safe are your personal details online and on your mobiles and laptops??
  • What information do you put on the internet and on your phone or computer about yourself?
  • How secure are your passwords - and where do you keep them?

For our filming for this episode of Wales This Week, I agreed to go on my own digital journey of discovery and face up to some of these twenty-first century threats. I learnt just how crucial it is in this digital age to monitor the data footprint we are all leaving behind. Cybercrime is very real - and it’s on the rise.

I was introduced to a cyber security expert who helps businesses in Wales protect themselves against this ever-increasing threat. Damon Rands explained that in any firm, it is the employees who pose the biggest problem for cyber security. That’s due to the sheer amount they put online and the vulnerability of their passwords. He agreed to go away and do a few hours research on me on the internet to see what he could find which might be putting me at risk.

When we met again I was surprised to discover that he had found a number of details about me that I didn’t know existed on the internet including a lot of family photos which I did not think were publicly accessible. He said in some ways my security was high - in terms of private social networking for example. But the bigger picture he could build from a variety of sources included information about my pets, family members and my hobbies. This was a big cyber security worry, particularly in terms of targeted phishing attacks and basic information which might be used to hack passwords. So, already I was rapidly rethinking my online security strategy.

Then he conducted another experiment. Damon wanted to show how easy it would be to hack into a home wireless network once he had certain information. For demonstration purposes we installed a standard router many of us would have at home. He set me up with an account, protected by an ordinary password you might find in the dictionary, which he had built gathered from my personal information. It was just a matter of minutes before the network was hacked and he could see my browsing activity and potentially access emails and their contents.

I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to security after once being burgled. I generally go out of my way to make sure I don’t fall victim again. But, naively, I hadn’t considered my online blind spot. This really was my digital wake-up call. From now on I knew I needed to protect my cyber currency - my personal details and passwords - just as much as I already protect my real money and possessions. I urge you all to watch the programme and do the same.

For more information, tune into The Great ID Giveaway, a Wales This Week investigation, tonight at 8pm on ITV Wales.

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