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Ten Questions With… John Sileo

John Sileo is a kindred spirit when it comes to fighting the good fight against data breach and identity theft. I met John about seven years ago when we were both part of a joint project to raise awareness over the issue of physical document protection and we’ve been friends ever since. I admire what John does to help make people more aware of their personal risk and take steps to prevent identify theft. A two-time victim of identify theft, John has refused to wallow in his victimization and instead has become a privacy expert in his own right and taken his powerful, personal message to audiences around the world raising identity theft prevention awareness as one of the issues premiere speakers.

In addition to keynote speaking and his video series, Burning Questions, John is a frequent media source for stories about privacy and identity theft. He was in my area last month for to give a series of keynote presentations for the University of Massachusetts’ privacy awareness program so I took the opportunity to meet with John and ask him ten questions about his work and the issue of data privacy and information protection.

HoGo:  Your personal ID theft story is not uncommon. Is there anything that might have caused you to take better care of your personal information prior to your first experience?

John Sileo:  If I had ever felt an emotional connection to my digital identity, some sense of how much we are defined these days by the numbers that represent us, I think I would have paid more attention. Security and privacy seems so impersonal when presented in the media, that we need to see how it ties to the things in life that define us, like our relationships, our profession, our good deeds and of course, our wealth or lack of it.

HoGo:  Having been victimized once, what was it that you failed to consider leading up to your second experience and how did that second time change your perspective on privacy and identity theft?

Sileo:  Awareness (or mindfulness, as I like to call it) isn't enough. You can know that cholesterol causes heart attacks, but if you don't do anything to limit your intake it does you no good. Knowing that identity theft exists, that online privacy is disappearing, that mobile devices are easily hacked, that social media is used to socially engineer you – is not enough. You also need to take steps – the right steps – to make sure that awareness turns into protection.

HoGo:  You were a small business owner who paid a high price after being victimized by a trusted insider. What can small businesses do, without the resources and controls available to larger enterprises, to establish protections against insider data theft?

Sileo:  Due diligence! Small businesses need to take the time to get to know their candidates, whether they will be business partners or working in the mail room (if such a thing still exists!). Doing a simple background check, googling and Facebooking your candidate (within legal bounds), interviewing past references in an effective way, limiting user access until trust is earned; these are simple, generally inexpensive steps you can take to minimize exposure.

HoGo:  You travel the country as a public speaker to educate and raise awareness of the personal risks associated with cybercrime. What are the questions you are asked most often after concluding your presentations?

Sileo:  People want to know what happened to my family after I lost everything. And they want to know what happened to the insider that stole my identity and destroyed my million dollar business. That just goes to show you how deeply people care about the human element of data privacy. They may not connect with the technical aspects, but I guarantee they connect with protecting their own kids on Facebook, locking down their own smartphone or tablet, and surfing without the fear of constant surveillance. We change based on our emotions, and my audiences connect with the emotional stories I tell.

HoGo:  What would you say is the common denominator to stories you hear from attendees at your presentations today and how has that changed since you began working to raise ID theft awareness?

Sileo:  The common refrain I hear after a speech is, "I didn't think it could happen to me," and that hasn't changed one bit since I started speaking almost 10 years ago. However, when I come across audiences I have spoken to before, they are very eager to share their "hogwash!" stories and how they have foiled fraud, identity thieves or hackers based on the ideas I've presented. That is, without question, the most fulfilling part of my job.


DISCLAIMER: This post does not constitute an endorsement of HoGo by John Sileo. Nor does it constitute an endorsement of John Sileo by HoGo. It is merely a conversation between two entities concerned with advancing awareness over issues of data privacy, information security, and the protection of intellectual property.

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