The ongoing fallout from the Optus data breach is yet another wake-up call for those of us living a digital life.
But while this is big, and clearly distressing for those whose personal information has been compromised, the Optus hacker is by no means the first to knock the wind out of a corporate giant.
Uber, LinkedIn, Apple and Facebook are just some of the household names to have bled customer data in recent years. Early last year, Nine fell victim to a cyber-attack that took its programs off-air and crippled network systems for months.
If holes can be found in the firewalls of these seemingly well-resourced and cutting edge companies, then how can we ever expect our personal information to be secure?
Well, that's on us.
Rather than rely on others, we can all do our best to be cyber-literate. ACM is currently raising awareness among staff, as I'm sure other companies are too. It would be even better if cyber and media literacy training was introduced in our schools where I'm sure no teenager is reading the Terms and Conditions of their social media accounts.
There's a trick I sometimes pull out whenever I'm teaching verification skills to working journalists and journalism students.
I pick one name ahead of my training session and then proceed to find out everything I can about that person by simply searching information readily available on the web.
Before long, I can rattle off their middle names, where they live, who their parents, siblings, friends and children are, what footy team they support, where they shop, what they did last night and so on. It's not hard at all to find this information, but when you put it all together and repeat it back to someone, it's a rather sobering party trick.
The purpose of the exercise is twofold; I want to show young journalists how easy it is to find and contact someone for a story and I want to highlight the importance of protecting sources - and themselves. There are so many ways someone can get information about you online; from Instagram to Pinterest, ABN records, Land Title records, Electoral Office enrolments, Development Applications, petitions, court lists, and of course we leave the key in the front foor whenever we post to Facebook.
When our team reported the break-ins and car thefts at Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie, we asked some of those victims for a comment. Some declined, because they feared the thieves would target them. And yet, some had posted to the town's community noticeboard.
Sure, this is a closed group - but it's a group of 35,000 people who with one click on your profile can access the pictures you've posted of your home, your husband/wife's name, and where your kids go to school.
In our news stories, we may print your name and town just to substantiate your comments, but we'd never share information to the extent your share yourselves on Facebook.
So, read the fine print. Know what those terms and conditions are when you sign up to an online contract or new social media account.
ACM runs a Scamwatch column every week. You can also find out more at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
I'm off now for a couple of weeks, so you'll have some guest editors in the chair. Stay cyber safe.
Editor, North Coast (ACM)
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