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Bush email hacking a wake up call

By Christopher Wolf, Special to CNN
February 9, 2013 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
President George H.W. Bush, left, and his son President George W. Bush appear at a World Series game in October 2010.
President George H.W. Bush, left, and his son President George W. Bush appear at a World Series game in October 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bush family e-mails were hacked, private contents posted online
  • Chris Wolf: Many offended, some amused, but all concerned about privacy
  • Wolf: Users have options already established to protect private information
  • Wolf: Use password for WiFi, use two-step verification for e-mail

Editor's note: Christopher Wolf leads the privacy and information management practice at Hogan Lovells US LLP and is the founder and co-chairman of the Future of Privacy Forum, a think tank dedicated to advancing privacy.

(CNN) -- When news broke that six e-mail accounts belonging to members of the Bush family were hacked and some of the contents posted online, reactions ranged from being offended to amusement.

Many people objected to the leak of family exchanges reflecting contingency planning for the funeral of President George H.W. Bush. If ever a family deserves privacy, it is when dealing with the death, or impending death, of a loved one.

Others seized on the semi-nude bathing self-portraits of President George W. Bush to resume ridicule not seen since he left office.

Christopher Wolf
Christopher Wolf

And virtually everyone took the episode as a warning that "this can happen to you."

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The Bush family email hack comes on the heels of reports of hacking at universities and major newspapers, and it follows urgent government warnings against our fragile cybersecurity defenses.

So, do the average users of online e-mail and Web services simply have to assume that hacking will expose their personal messages and photos? Not necessarily.

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The recent spate of security breaches and the attention focused on them will mean that government and businesses will up their game even more to secure our information infrastructure. But the security reinforcement might take time.

In the meantime, people have options to protect their information and themselves. Privacy and data security is a shared responsibility, after all, and users have a role to play.

Some Web-based e-mail services like Google's Gmail offer tools to add an extra layer of protection. Gmail offers a two-step verification to add an extra layer of security.

Such protection erects a double gate against unwanted interception. Through two-step verification, in addition to user name and password, you enter a code that the e-mail provider will send via text, voice call or on a mobile app.

Two-step verification drastically reduces the chances of someone stealing the personal information from your e-mail account because hackers would have to not only get a password and your user name, they would also have to have access to the mobile phone to which the code is sent.

And while you are taking steps to secure your e-mail, you would be well-advised to make sure your WiFi connection is secure.

Wireless routers are ubiquitous, allowing you to share your internet connection and files around the house. But without securing your router, anyone within range can access the websites you visit and may be able to access your personal information. Securing your WiFi router with a password is an easy step to take, and it is often overlooked.

If you want to get a little more technical, take a look at whether the website you are using to transmit information is using HTTPS -- hypertext transfer protocol secure. HTTPS encrypts your data so that it cannot be intercepted during transmission.

You will find that your banking transactions almost always will be conducted through the HTTPS protocol. For an extra level of security, check to see if other websites you use offer HTTPS for transmission.

So instead of throwing up your hands that Web-based e-mail and online data transfers can never be secure, seek out and use the security tools that already exist.

And no matter what your political persuasion, thank the Bush family for the wake-up call.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Christopher Wolf.

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