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Growing Pains, Risks as Internet and Social Media Proliferate

The rapid integration of digital technologies into everyday life continues to create new risks and challenges that many individuals and families frequently overlook or do not yet fully appreciate.

Take these two technological developments: Smartphones and the Internet of Things (IoT). While smartphone and mobile technology as a whole has put the Internet at the fingertips of a greater number of people worldwide, it also has allowed the development of millions of applications that collect and store large quantities of personal data that could easily fall into the wrong hands. Today's mobile users not only have to contend with the unsafe data collection of certain mobile apps, but they must also be on guard for hackers who have developed fraudulent versions of popular apps designed to steal personal data, such as credit card information.

The lnternet of Things, where everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data, is another example of an emerging security risk. As more devices become Internet-enabled – 24 billion by 2020, according to a recent estimate – experts are finding that IoT devices often lack basic security measures such as proper encryption. For example, last year, security experts were able to remotely gain control of a moving Jeep Cherokee, raising questions about automakers' ability to secure connected cars.

While responding to some emerging technological risks requires a level of technical sophistication, other risks can simply be avoided or mitigated through diligence, education and proactive engagement with risk management specialists.

At USI Affinity, the administrator of the American Bar Association Insurance Program, has a team of Personal Risk Specialists advise individual clients and families on ways to better manage risks associated with the use of technology for communication, security and efficiency.

Unfortunately, many experts believe statistics will only worsen as more children gain access to a growing number of Internet-connected devices. It is estimated approximately 95 percent of all Americans between 12 and 17 years old are online and three in four teens access the internet on cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

It is critical that parents and guardians monitor the activity of younger children in order to protect them from online predators.

Facing up to Cyber-bullying

Research by Cox Communications Inc., in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, found that 19-percent of teens have reported being victims of online bullying.

The study also shows the incidence of online harassment is higher (23-percent) among 16 and 17 year-olds, and that girls are more likely to be harassed or bullied than boys.

For both the victim and perpetrator, there can be severe financial consequences. The costs may include counseling expenses, individually and for the family, as well as medical treatment for any injuries resulting from bullying. Legal expenses may also be incurred.

Carriers have begun to develop insurance protection for families due to injuries sustained from cyber-bullying.

Exercising Constraint on Social Media

Social media allows individuals to share views and opinions on virtually any topic with a global audience.

For individuals who are unable to constrain their activities online, whether making inappropriate comments or sharing explicit photos, the potential impact to their reputation and finances could be significant. Risks include legal responsibility for libel, slander, loss of employment and income. In addition, transmitting photos or videos of others without consent can lead to criminal and civil action against the individual who transmitted the material.

USI’s approach is to educate parents and children on social media etiquette and appropriate behavior, coupled with the use of software and active monitoring of activity on social media.

Securing Personally Identifying Information

A 2018 study released by Javelin Strategy & Research found that identity thieves lifted a total of $16.8 billion from 16.7 million U.S. consumers in 2017.

While credit monitoring and protection systems are helping to catch and deter criminals, identity theft and fraud remain widespread, with hackers able to sell sensitive personal information for $9 to $40 per record. Driven by the high value of records on the black market, hackers continue to pursue vulnerabilities in technology, such as unsecured WiFi portals and mobile applications.

Among other things, members and their families should not access financial institution websites from a public or unsecured WiFi portal. Other recommendations include:

  • Close management of passwords for all financial accounts
  • Never use names, dates of birth, current addresses or the word "password" for access to your accounts
  • Individuals may purchase coverage through a homeowner’s policy, or from credit card companies and other sources
  • Any ID Theft coverage must include active monitoring of credit activity with immediate notice of suspicious or unknown requests for credit.

These are only a few examples of how the ABA Insurance Program is helping individual clients manage Internet and social media-related risks, and keep themselves and their families safe. The ABA Insurance Program approach encourages not only proactive engagement with risk management specialists but also constant education and information-sharing to stay abreast of this ever-changing risk.

To learn more about these and other solutions, contact the American Bar Association Insurance Program

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The ABA Insurance Education Center is provided by USI Affinity, the administrator of the American Bar Association Insurance Program.
Unless stated, the opinions shared by USI Affinity writers do not reflect the official position of the American Bar Association.