04/22/2014 02:33 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2014

Security Takes the Stage at SXSW: Key Takeaways

Every year CSID is lucky to attend South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), the digital portion of the technology, film and music festival that takes place in our hometown of Austin, Texas. While digital security topics have been incorporated into SXSWi panels and discussions in the past, this year security took center stage.

Why the heightened interest in security? Major data breaches are affecting consumers, businesses and our nation more than ever, and people are starting to take notice. This SWSWi digital security buzz is largely attributed to Edward Snowden (who made a video conferencing appearance at SXSWi); the Target, Neiman Marcus and Adobe breaches that affected millions; and the recent fascination with digital currency like Bitcoin.

Now that cyber security has gotten the attention of the public, it's time to start improving security practices by becoming better informed parents, employees, managers and business owners. I want to share with you my top SXSWi security takeaways, gathered from some interesting and engaging panels and discussions at the festival.

"Forget" Wi-Fi Networks

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was a 15-minute talk and demonstration by CSID's Chief Innovative Officer, Adam Tyler called "When Good Technology Goes Bad: Mobile Technology." In his panel he noted that cyber criminals are able to hack into a vulnerable mobile device or laptop at very little cost and skill. He revealed how a $20 router could be turned into a malicious device to execute a "Man In The Middle" (MITM) attack. Cyber criminals then use this malicious device to connect to favorited Wi-Fi networks a mobile device or laptop has stored. The best way to avoid MITM attacks is to "forget" Wi-Fi networks on your laptop and turn off auto-connect to Wi-Fi on your smartphones, as mobile devices do not have the capacity to "forget" networks. Make sure to connect to secure Wi-Fi networks when you need internet access on your mobile device.

Children are More Connected Online than Ever Before

CEO of Inflection Point Global Chris Crosby and CEO of Lookout Social Clay Nichols discussed how child ID theft should be a top privacy concern for parents in their panel, "Growing Up Unprotected: Child ID Theft." Children today can have a digital footprint even before they are born. When parents post sonogram pictures to Facebook, cyber criminals become aware of a fresh identity on which to prey. According to a poll by Posterista, the average time it takes parents to share their newborns' first photo on a social media site was 57.9 minutes. In addition to parents' online activity putting their children at risk for identity theft, teens' increased online connectivity also puts them at risk. Having access to personal mobile devices 24-7 allows them to download potentially malicious apps, create several social networking accounts (likely reusing the same password across all sites), and interact with cyber criminals who use social engineering to manipulate them into handing over personal information. Chris and Clay suggested that the most effective way to combat these risks is by starting the digital safety conversation early with children. Let them know why they should not share passwords with others and educate children on what is appropriate to post on social networks.

Social Media isn't Harmless - It Affects Security and Reputation

Internet privacy lawyer Parry Aftab teamed up with CSID VP of Product and Marketing Bryan Hjelm to discuss the implications of social media activities and how they can affect reputation and security. Together they shared how social media has opened up a treasure trove of personal information for cyber criminals. Now, criminals have access to pet names, mothers' maiden names, middle names -- all information used as common password reset questions. Social media has also created a platform for slanderous activity to take place against individuals and businesses. Suppression services can help this negative activity by hiding untrue articles and allegations as well as phony web profiles that can hurt an individual or business's reputation.

Take Extra Precaution During Events In addition to lessons learned from panels, I want to share some precautions to take when attending large conferences. A large event like SXSWi can attract cyber criminals as there is an onslaught of out-of-towners and a tendency for conference-goers to use public Wi-Fi. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself when traveling to a festival or conference:
  • Avoid using public Wi-Fi. Most conferences will provide a free Wi-Fi service - don't use it. Stay on the safe side and use your phone's hot spot.
  • Turn on your mobile passcode before attending the conference, in case your phone is lost or stolen.
  • Be wary of vendors asking you to download new apps. According to Juniper Research more than 80 percent of smartphones are unprotected from malware attacks.

Above all else, technology is our friend and can be used for good. However, when placed in the wrong hands, technology can be manipulated into hurting individuals and businesses. The more informed you are about technology, the better armed you can be to protect against cyber criminals' activities.