MIAMI -- From losing a cell phone or having a laptop stolen to facing email scammers and hackers: Advisors face numerous threats to the security of sensitive client data.

And unfortunately, many advisors have had firsthand experience on this front. Advisor panelists shared their own cybersecurity horror stories at a session on avoiding hackers, held at FPA Retreat here this weekend.

While the following list is far from exhaustive, here are a few simple ways advisors can boost their personal security, protect their clients and avoid getting hacked:


Advisors need to do a better job of making sure that all devices, hard drives and phones are encrypted, speaker Steven Ryder, president of IT consulting firm TrueNorth Networks, told planners. 

Using passwords on phones or tablets is a very simple -- and underused -- way to immediately increase the level of security on mobile devices, he said. But the passwords you select must be complex.

Advisor attendees offered two smart ways to develop (and remember) more complicated passwords to help thwart hackers.

  • Remember a phrase and string together the first letter of each word, adding a random character at the beginning and end of your password.
  • For each site or account that requires a password, take the first two letters of the site or platform, add a combination of 9 letters and numbers that you will use repeatedly (based on only things you would know -- such as your car make, the year you got married or your address growing up). Then add the third letter of the site you're using and a character at the end. Reuse the middle portion on every account you have, while swapping out the letters at the beginning and end based on the account.


Ryder urged advisors to be extremely careful with email, especially attachments.

"Be really smart about what you open," he said. "If there is any question, even a minute question, do not open the attachment in the email. Be careful about what you are doing. Be smart."


In the event of an incident, advisors should be prepared. "Do people know how to wipe out their phone or their tablet?" Ryder asked.

Advisors should know how to wipe their phones, clearing out any sensitive data, if they are ever lost or stolen, he said. 

"I think a lot of people don't know how to wipe their phones. If you get in a situation, you want to know what to do without having to panic."

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This story originally ran on May 5, 2014.