How Much Are Your Personal Data Worth?

Today's guest column is from Isa Cox. Isa is an Internet security expert and blogger. She writes about online safety and freedom, tech tips for small business and travel. You may also enjoy her article on e-crime facts and figures.

Are you aware of the battles being waged over the fate of your personal data and what companies and or other organizations are trying to do with it? You should be, considering it is your information and sharing it could have consequences that will affect you in both the virtual and physical world. Data mining for various purposes is a major industry, resulting in (alleged) national security, targeted marketing, and market research. While you may or may not agree that these are good things, these operations are effectively going on without your control, and you should have some say about what goes on with what is effectively your identity and your valuable property. Here are some types of people and organizations that are interested in your data, why they are interested, and what you can do to defend yourself.

Social Media

SocialmediaHave you ever noticed how the more you use Facebook or another social media platform, the more the ads that appear onscreen (unless you use an adblocker program) seem to be targeted directly to you? Have you ever then wondered how the social media platforms (and other seemingly unrelated websites, much to everyone’s concern) are able to do this?

You see targeted ads because these sites are mining your posts and other information for data that they then use to target advertising to you, perform market research, or even sell to other companies for their analysis and research in order to better sell things to you, the consumer.

Here’s something that you should know: you do not necessarily own your profiles or your posts, which means that there are others who can use them freely. If you look in your user agreements (which very few people read or agree to), then you might notice different paragraphs regarding their use of your data and the ownership of your profile. While they might vary too much to mention each of them separately, know that you will find things that concern you considering how much you rely on these platforms. Do your research before you sign up or update in the future and be warned.




Image by

While social media companies and platforms are legal businesses performing legal (albeit ethically questionable) actions, hackers and cybercriminals are out there, and their effects are more immediately noticeable and serious. Cybercrime is a business, and business is booming like never before; with identity theft rates going through the roof and relatively few convictions coming from it. Hackers can make enough money off of your data and the data of other people to make a living, and since it is your identity, its worth is almost unquestionable to you.

Hackers will go through quite a lot if they think the data is worth it. Collectives of hackers will attack large businesses and split the profits from the stolen data, and other hackers will lie in wait in public areas looking to intercept financial or other personal data from you over an unsecure public network (a frighteningly easy process for them) if you don’t have any protection. To put it on a more personal perspective, people will often take advantage of people’s trust and use data to steal the identity of close friends or family members, leaving the victim in financial ruin. Your data is so valuable that people will hurt loved ones to get at it.


Image by Don Hankins

While things may be greatly different depending on the country you are living in, you have probably heard report on the news about different government online surveillance programs that are being used on either citizens and/or non-citizens. These programs will also collect data and analyze it on a massive scale in order to detect what it perceives as threats and other reasons that have not been released to the public. This concerns many people, for good reason. You don’t know how safe the government is keeping that data, and you don’t know how much it values it. 

Also of note concerning government entities and the value of your data is that there is now a constant debate going on as to the true ownership of such data, and there are calls for something along the lines of a bill of rights for consumer privacy. Along with this, other laws are being proposed and considered that would give you undeniable legal ownership of your online profiles and data relating to you. This would mean a massive shift in the balance of online power, and you owe it to yourself to either support such measures if you agree with them or follow the story so you know what is going on.


VPNs and Other Defenses

With so many different entities wanting a piece of your data and profiting off of you without either your knowledge or consent, you need a way to defend yourself. The current best way to do this is by using a Virtual Private Network, which is an online service that will connect your computer or other device to an offsite secure server. This is done via an encrypted connection that will protect you on any network you use, making you much safer where cybercriminals are concerned.

If you are more concerned about government censorship and surveillance, then you will be more interested in the ability of the VPN to mask your IP address and look as though you are in another country, giving you a great degree of all-important privacy when you use the internet. Taking all of this into account though, you should know that not all VPNs are alike, and they won’t all protect your data the same. You’ll want to read some reviews and check out which VPNs are best so that you can protect your data from those wanting a piece of it.

As far as social media accounts and other online accounts that might be data mining you are concerned, most defenses won’t work as the data are collected from your account instead of your computer or is not linked to your IP address. You best options come down to not using social media and educating yourself before you do so that you know how to manage your rightful data.

Other tools and defenses you might want to consider are just making sure you are living a private online life, potentially using Tor (although it is rumored that governments pay closer attention to Tor users), and using a proxy, which won’t be as effective as a VPN but is better than nothing. Whatever you decide, know that your data has worth and that it is important to protect it.

So how much are your personal data worth?

You have to decide that for yourself after considering all of the consequences and suitors above. Thank you for reading, and I hope that you have a greater understanding of just how valuable you and your data are to the major players on the internet.


The Affordable Care Act Will Depend on Secure Access for Success

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is completely reshaping how Americans think about, participate in and receive services through our healthcare system. While we are still early in the implementation cycle, it appears that advanced technologies will be key enablers for ACA:  High-speed broadband networks, high-density servers and storage systems, various forms of cloud computing will all combine to facilitate the rollout of this ambitious overhaul of U.S. healthcare. Given the nature and sensitivity of healthcare-related information, these technologies must be further complemented to facilitate secure information flow.  Secure access solutions accommodate secure information transfer by taking into consideration privacy needs and regulation; to date, secure correspondence and secure healthcare information transfer have received little attention in the healthcare debates. However, healthcare providers, insurance companies and other payer organizations and patients/consumers cannot securely and confidently share patient records and other information if high-performance remote access solutions are present.

Multiple Healthcare Trends Drive the Need for Secure Access

Healthcare is changing in three meaningful ways and the Affordable Care Act will stimulate growth in these areas:

Medical practice in the digital age. U.S. medical professionals are rapidly moving into the digital age, a trend that started even before the passage of ACA.  More than two-thirds (69 percent) of doctors used electronic health records (EHRs) in 2012, up from just 46 percent in 2009.  While American doctors lag their brethren in much of the developed world, it seems likely they will catch up or even surpass doctors in other countries. 

Ensuring high-quality healthcare to rural America is a critical component of successfully rolling out ACA.  More than 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas, tend to be older, have lower incomes and are more likely to be uninsured than urban Americans.   Concurrently, the rural healthcare workforce is aging and closer to retirement than urban healthcare workers.  Long distances to travel for services and a lack of reliable transportation leads rural Americans to delay seeking care, exacerbating health problems and leading to more expensive treatment.

Point-of-care diagnosis, as opposed to the current system of centralized diagnosis in large facilities, for example, has the potential to dramatically increase effectiveness and efficiency of delivering healthcare services by eliminating time and distances issues, cutting wait times and decreasing healthcare delivery costs.

The broadband infrastructure in the United States must evolve quickly to facilitate communication of healthcare related information. Some of this evolution has been underway for some time.  The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2010 created the National Broadband Plan, before the ACA was even passed.  Among the provisions included in this plan was the provision of $8.1 billion to the Connect America Fund to expand rural broadband and voice service, and the e-rate program to provide high-speed broadband to schools and libraries (see Healthcare Connect Fund).

Mobile devices will also play an important role in providing healthcare services in the near future.  Smart phones, tablets and laptops allow for anytime, anywhere access for sending and receiving healthcare information among providers, payers and consumers.  Some believe purpose-specific, portable medical communication devices will offer the long-term solution to providing health services.  In one pilot program, such as portable device enabled a doctor in Canada to monitor the heartbeat of a baby in the Andes Mountains, as well as communicate with the mother and enable providing of an ultrasound, with the assistance of an onsite nurse.

The Role of Secure Access in the New Healthcare Landscape

The security of any type of information is only as good as the weakest link in the chain from the source where the information resides to the person who requests it.  Whether the communication is payer to provider, provider to payer, or between a payer or provider and a consumer, remote access is nearly always involved and secure access is always required.

Each entity involved in a secure information transaction has different needs.  The payer and provider in particular have legal and regulatory requirements to quickly and efficiently provide patient information to other healthcare providers or payers, to government organizations that might be involved in providing payment as well as to the patient. It is in the best interest of the consumer as well to have secure access solutions on his or her computer and any mobile devices.

Payers and providers have a particularly difficult task ensuring secure access since many people within their organizations may have access to a consumer’s records, some of these workers may be stationery, others may be mobile, some may create and access information on a mobile device, and that mobile device may belong to the payer or provider, or to the workers themselves.

Working with a remote access provider would ensure secure data and secure transport of data among the payer, provider and patient to provide the necessary protection of patient information.

Secure access/transaction processing must satisfy at least this set of security features:

  • Simple, complete and interoperable integration with VPN gateways from any manufacturer.  
  • No installation of a client on PCs, Macs, tablets, phones or other devices, and no requirement of administrator rights.
  • Accommodation of the BYOD prevalent at many businesses today, while ensuring content security for patient or related healthcare information that is stored on these devices.
  • Facilitate preparation for disasters as part of comprehensive business continuity program through capabilities such as place- and platform-independent operations 
  • Enable efficient and secure access by authorized business, technology, channel and other partners to content, with particular attention to accommodating regulatory constraints on access to certain information.
  • The secure access solution should also facilitate branch office connectivity.  This ensures authorized employees have access to the most current information, enables IT teams to manage connectivity centrally, simplifies support, and reduces operating costs.
  • Offer other features that can provide convenience to users and IT teams alike, such as VoIP calling features that allow for free phone calls from any location.

With these security features in mind, IT teams at payers and providers must scrutinize every facet of their organization’s communications systems and security infrastructure for possible holes. Tha nature and sensitivity of patient and related healthcare information tends to draw IT's attention first to protect "data at rest". Secure access calls attention to the fact that sensitive data "rest" at both endpoints of any information transaction and must be protected during transfer as well. Payers, providers and consumers are best served.y adopting secure access solutions that meet the aforementioned criteria.  

This is a guest post by Siegfried Plommer, Director of HOB GmbH KG, a software based remote
access solution provider. It was reviewed and accepted for publication without fee.