My personal data has been compromised – now what?

The Philippines’ Commission on Election (Comelec) hacking has created one massive data leak that affected almost, or perhaps all of the registered Filipino voters. A few days ago, there was a website that provided access to the available information by using one’s name as search term, and it shows all available information under that name. I just had to check which part of my personal information have been leaked, so that I know my personal risk factors connected to the leak. Indeed, my name was there, including some Personally identifiable information (PII).

Personally identifiable information (PII) is any data that could potentially identify a specific individual. Any information that can be used to distinguish one person from another and can be used for de-anonymizing anonymous data can be considered PII.(http://searchfinancialsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/personally-identifiable-information)

I won’t enumerate what my leaked data contained to retain a sense of security. But let’s just say if someone was determined to do something about it, there may be bits of information that can be useful to them, if I am not careful of my transactions both online and offline. And my information is already out there somewhere in the internet and most probably in the dark web, it will probably be there forever.

Blame it on the government’s incompetence in digital security. However, no amount of blaming can reverse what has already been released to the world. Somehow I’m also a bit thankful of the government’s general incompetence in data management because there were some typos in my data that might make a difference. And I’m thankful that there is essentially no data consolidation across the different government agencies, so the leak in PII from one government entity did not connect to all other available personal information in other government agencies.

So now that my (any everyone else’s) personal data has been compromised, what can we do to protect ourselves from any harm that it can cause?

  1. Secure all your accounts. This is very important for all financial accounts, digital and online accounts, as well as any other accounts that may be accessed using your PII.
    • A lot financial institutions verify transactions using PIIs (e.g. mother’s maiden name, home address, etc.), but there are additional security features which may be available from some institutions such as mobile notifications or email notifications. This will alert your if there are any dubious transactions under your accounts.
    • Ensure that your passwords online are very secure, including your password recover options. Change all your passwords if you think your password may also have been compromised. For password recovery options, avoid using PII. Use strong passwords as much as possible. See tips here: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/32040?hl=en. If possible, also utilise extra layers of security available such as the 2-step verification.
  2. Monitor your transactions. Online banking is a pretty good way to monitor all activities in your account to ensure that nothing goes wrong, or if something goes wrong, you’ll be able to do something about it immediately. This also goes for your other accounts.
  3. Avoid phishing attempts.
    • Phone call phishing. In the past, I’ve already experienced receiving a call from someone who was posing to be from my bank and attempting to “verify” my personal information. I’m quite wary about those since I was not expecting that call, and there were other means to verify and update my information, so I did not give any information. I can imagine that possibly happening with the available information, with phishing attempts to get more information that may be used in identity theft.
    • Email phishing. Be careful when you open emails, especially those that you are not expecting, or those from senders that you are not familiar with. Make sure you don’t click on unnecessary links that may send your computer viruses, or hack your accounts, or steal your information.
  4. Keep a low profile. Remember that there the leaked information is comprised of millions of individuals, and you are only one of them. Since the information is mostly searchable by name, it may be the more popular and known one’s to be first targeted by criminals or what-nots. Remember BIR? It was the people who show up on the news (no matter how un-connected to taxes) who get their income tax closely reviewed and scrutinized. I would think it may be the same for this massive data leak. If you’re relatively unknown and do not seem to have a lot to offer, hopefully you’ll just go unnoticed.
  5. Use an alias online. Or at the very least, do not display your full legal name (with your middle and last names) on your social media and other online accounts. It may give you one thin layer of protection since the leaked information has your full name.

What else? I really don’t know, I’m not a data security expert. These are just some ways I can think about on how to protect myself, and how you can protect yourself in the midst of this massive mess that is the Comelec data breach.

What a difference a curlash makes. ;)

I was putting on my “weekend makeup” one time, and just noticed how different my eyes looked when one already had lashes curled, and the other one was au naturelle. Thanks to genetics, I have long but naturally straight lashes, and although I have no need to have lash extensions applied, I do have to curl my lashes every day. Believe me, it does wonders.

My personal makeup skills is something that I have gradually learned over time. Thanks to the natural flair of the women in my family for beauty, I have role models to look up to. And as I learned from my beloved grandmother – never leave the house without any makeup – and I live by that rule. But that does not mean I always look made-up all the time. There is an art to always just having enough makeup on.

I learned the basics of makeup from watching my mom put her makeup on every day before going to work since I was young. I got beauty tips from my aunt all the time. My grandmother always had makeup on regardless if she has to leave the house or not. The more detailed parts of putting on makeup I learned from some talented friends – how to put on eyeliner, how to draw eyebrows perfectly, how to contour, etc. etc.

When it comes to the most basic makeup, which I refer to asĀ “weekend makeup”, there are just a few essential things needed:

  • moisturizer (always)
  • BB cream (or a very light coverage foundation)
  • face powder (applied using a big brush instead of the puff)
  • blush
  • lip balm
  • and curled-up lashes

I would also throw in a very thin eyeliner for my top lid (none for the bottom), draw my eyebrows using a brush and some eyebrow powder, and a thin coat of mascara just to hold the curled lashes in shape, but you can skip these if you want to. This is what I do on relaxed weekends and casual trips. This is what I have on when I seem to have barely anything on.

I do full makeup on weekdays when I go to work, and that involves a whole lot of other stuff than the ones I listed above. I also do it differently for special events, and usually I use pictures from magazines as a guide when I need to put on makeup for special occasions.

It’s good to be beautiful always. You’ll never know who you’ll encounter anytime, and it’s good to look good always.

Hello NSW drivers license ;)

This is actually as exciting and notable as getting my first job here in Sydney. I’ve been driving for over a decade in the Philippines, but as a new permanent resident here in Australia, I had to convert my Philippine drivers license to a local one. Now I’ve already gotten my full car license issued by NSW. Feels like I’m as good as a real local now.

It’s not easy though. Takes a lot of effort, but it’s doable. The advice I got from other people as well as researching ahead really helped too. I’m sharing the most important tips that helped me get my license here:

Tip #1
You can drive here with the regular full (non-pro) license from the Philippines, and there is no need to convert it to an “international” license. If you’re on a temporary visa, there is no need to convert it to an Australian drivers license as long as its still valid. But for permanent residents, you are only allowed to use it for three months from the day you arrive (or the day you are granted a permanent resident visa if you’re already here). Afterwards, you need to have an Australian drivers license to drive.

Tip #2
If you’ve been driving for more than 5 years in the Philippines, better get a certification from LTO before you leave the country. They can issue a document that shows when you were issued your first drivers license, because that information that does not appear on your current license unless you still have your first one. Also, make sure your license is still valid, of course.

Tip #3
First thing to do here is sign up to do the Drivers Knowledge Test (DKT). It’s a computer-based multiple-choice test on road rules. You can easily do that at any NSW Service office. Make sure that you review for it though – and review includes reading the handbook, and doing their practice test online at least 10 times (no kidding). The practice test is almost the same as the actual test, but the questions vary and are generated from a pool of questions, and taking the practice test lets you see almost all of the questions and answers. They also have a mobile app version of the practice test.

Tip #4
For the DKT, make sure that you bring the following documents – proofs of identification, usually a Passport and other locally issued ID such as Medicare, your Philippine license, and a proof of residence in NSW, usually a bill or a bank statement that include your NSW home address. Check their website to check other forms of identification that they may accept.

Tip #5
If you pass the DKT, they will usually issue a learners license (an L). But if you’ve been driving a few years (this is where the LTO certification is useful) and can already qualify for a P license or a full license, and if you still have some time before you wont be allowed to use your country’s license (you haven’t reached the 3 months mark yet), they may not issue an a L for the time being. Assuming you don’t need an L, next thing you need to do is book a driving test.

Tip #6
One of the best tips I am glad I followed is to book a driving test as far you could from the city. I had mine at Blacktown. The less busy the area, the better. They also advised to get a schedule at around noontime, so you won’t have to worry about schoolzone speed limits.

Tip #7
DEFINITELY go for driving classes, at least to practice for the driving test. Best to do your practice driving with a driving instructor from the same area where you are taking the test, because they usually already know the driving test route. I think one of the best decisions I made was to get a driving instructor who was also Filipino, because I had no problem with language barriers and he also understood why I drove the way I do. Made it easier for him to correct my bad habits. I took just a few 1-hour classes to get used to the route and to correct my driving style for the test. I also did some practice on my own using a rental car, but that’s mostly to gain more confidence driving here. 

Tip #8
Relax during the driving test. This really helps avoid any unnecessary mistakes that may make or break your test. Make sure you had enough sleep the night before, you’re not hungry, you’re hydrated enough, and you’ve gone to the toilet before your test. And by the way, I had another 2-hour practice just right before the test. I also used my driving instructor’s vehicle for the test. My instructor was very supportive and encouraging and I guess it helped keep me calm and confident for the test. 

Since I’ve been driving for eons and have had my license since 2004 (as my LTO certification states), I get a full unrestricted car (C) license after the driving test. For others, you may get a P1 or P2 license depending on how long you’ve had your license before.

I did not intend to provide the complete step-by-step instructions on how to go about getting licensed, but rather just give tips that helped me get my NSW license on the first try. You have to DEFINTITELY read their website carefully and decide on the best strategy for your situation. 

Hope this helps!

Surviving the Cebu Pacific Manila-Sydney Flight

The Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Sydney isn’t so bad. I think they have five flights a week, direct between the two cities. Tickets costs an average of Php20,000 round trip, much affordable compared to the other carriers which average at Php40,000. Sometimes you can also get lucky and find really cheap promo fares (as low as Php6,000++ according to a friend). But of course, one should still remember that it is a budget airline and one should not expect red carpet treatment. Here are some tips to maximize the comfort of your ride.

  • The leg space on this flight is not bad, especially for a 5’2″ girl like me. There is enough wiggle space. If you’re much bigger though, it may be good to book one of the exit row seats for a little premium fee.
  • Considering that it’s not peak season yet, the plane is relatively full. Perhaps I got lucky with my seat (or maybe it was strategy), I got an aisle seat and have only one seatmate occupying the window seat – the seat between us is vacant. The strategy is not solid though, its still a hit or miss, depending on the occupancy of the flight.
  • I recommend that you bring the following:
  1. Small blanket or a warm shawl, so you would not need to purchase a Php350 blanket onboard
  2. Neck pillow and eye cover if you plan to sleep; Ear plugs may be useful too, especially if you’re on a flight with a noisy baby (or adult)
  3. Full socks, so you can kick off your shoes and relax
  4. Lotion and lip balm, to keep moisturized
  5. Loose change (maybe 20s, 50s and 100s) for purchasing drinks and food onboard
  • I would not recommend purchasing their onboard meals. They’re really not worth it. I personally think I would’ve been better off if I just bought their cup noodles. Anyway, there is really no point in eating a rice meal at 2am, and breakfast can be as simple as getting some pastries and coffee from them. Onboard food and drinks (not the meals) costs around Php50 up.
  • For flights from Sydney to Manila, make sure that all your carry-on baggage totals 7kg (somehow they can be quite strict)

I should also mention that it really pays to look out for budget fares on this carrier. If you wait around for the right time, you can usually get tickets for 1/2 or even 1/3 the price. And it’s not necessarily accomplished by booking a long way ahead of time. It’s really just about timing. 

I’ll most probably fly Cebu Pacific between Sydney and Manila in the coming years, unless by some good fortune I strike it rich here and I’ll fly Qantas instead. ;p

Cooking Master Girl – Pre-hypertensive Edition

I have a bit of a challenge lately, having had my blood pressure up to pre-hypertensive level consistently for the past week. I never really monitored my blood pressure level before, but I wasn’t feeling well at the start of last week, and they checked and found out that my BP was a bit on the high side. Indeed, I have the genetic pre-disposition to hypertension, but it was as if there was a switch that turned on when I reached 30. Last November my BP also already went up. Seems like I really have to do something actively about it now.

Thus the real challenge: what should I eat? I know that I should avoid fatty and salty foods, and thus fastfood, most processed foods and instant foods should be avoided. Therefore I have to prepare my own food five days a week at the condo, and I only have a microwave and an oven toaster to make do with. I have to be a little bit creative.

Armed with a little research, I made my way through the supermarket earlier with a revised grocery list. I got back to my place after, and removed the instant noodles and canned meat from my pantry. I have to avoid them at all cost now.

For dinner, I prepared grilled chicken in the oven toaster and put together a simple salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as dressing. I took pains to marinade the chicken in everything except salt – I put calamansi (a local lime), olive oil, and some spices. It tasted ok so far, but i’ll probably still add some more spices next time.

I got a lot of grains for brekkie – rolled oats, wholegrain cereals, muesli. I also got high-calcium low-fat milk to match. That should keep my tummy entertained in the mornings for the next few weeks.

For snacks I got fresh fruits, unsalted mixed nuts, and low fat yogurt. I also got wholegrain loaf for whatever – for sandwiches, for pizza bread, or just as a match to anything for meals.

Let’s see in the next few days how things work out. Hopefully there will be enough variety, enough flavor, as well as reduced salt and fat in everything I eat.I’m also hoping that I’ll be hsppy with the food I prepare so it will be sustainable. Once I have my blood pressure under control without the need for medication, I may be able to throw in the occasional fatty and/or salty treat.

Sleeping Like Fish

Today I was able to try another means of transportation going to my office in Makati in the morning. Everything was well and good, except for the two persons who were both sleeping so awkwardly on my left and my right side. The one on my left side had her head back and her neck hyper-extended, and had her mouth wide open the entire trip. The one on my left had her head on an awkward tilt forward, occasionally “headbanging” or jerking between positions, all her hair falling in front of her and all over my right arm/shoulder.

Well, it really is a challenge sleeping in a vehicle full of people. But for some reason, I have learned how to sleep in public transportation with a little more class. I can even do it in MRT if I am lucky get a seat, or sometimes even standing up as long as I have a good handrail to hold on to. It’s somewhat a type of semi-sleep or half-sleep. I close my eyes, and just bow my head a little forward. Like a floating, sleeping fish.

Ever since I was a kid I have wondered how fish slept. How can they sleep while staying afloat? Or do they sleep at all? Science says that some fish sleep with half a brain still awake to keep them balanced or floating in water.

I have discovered too, that fish indeed sleep, when I find our koi fish in the pond sleeping at night. When I see our kois late at night, they’re all lined-up perpendicularly “parked” beside each other, and not swimming, just floating.

So, fish can sleep without a bed, just lined up and floating, with just a part of their brain still active to keep their position in check. I have learned to do something similar when sleeping in public transportation. Sleeping like fish. It’s so useful for catching some zzz’s during travel lull times.

Cotton Balls

My eye-makeup remover of choice are two cotton balls. Yes, two cotton balls, and some other simple stuff I’ll explain in a bit.

Every day (except on weekends whenever possible) I put on almost complete make up, complete with eyeshadow and waterproof eyeliner and mascara. However, it has proven to be such a challenge to completely remove it at the end of each day. The typical eye make-up remover I know are oil-based removers. But it leaves it greasy or sticky feeling after. Some use cotton pads and some moisturizer, but I can’t seem to get everything off with just that.

Also, my eyes have been previously damaged and a little bit sensitive. I was diagnosed with keratoconjunctivitis sicca (or dry eye syndrome – DES) last year, so I have even more limitations with dealing with my eyes. Interesting though, one of the best eyelid cleaning trick I learned from my Ophthalmologist, and it was advised for me to minimize the effect of my DES.

So this is how I do it every evening:

  1. Before I wash my face, I ready two clean and dry cotton balls near and somewhere easy to grab.
  2. I wash my face using the typical facial wash. Before I rinse my face, I grab a cotton ball and lightly rub my closed eyelids to remove the eye makeup residue. The eye make up has loosened because of the facial wash, and is absorbed by the cotton ball. Then I rinse my face with water. Usually the eye makeup has been significantly removed at this point, but sometimes some residue still remains (especially of waterproof mascara and eye liner).
  3. I then put a drop of baby shampoo in my cupped hand, dilute it with a little water, and have the second cotton ball absorb this.
  4. With the second cotton ball, I lightly rub my entire eye area while my eyes are closed – including eyelids, eye brows, eye lashes, and eye bags. Then, I rinse thoroughly with water. Somehow it’s like shampooing your eye lashes and eye brows, and your entire eyelid and eyebag area.

The part with the facial wash, I kinda figured out myself. But the part with the baby shampoo is the one I got from my Ophthalmologist. I actually think one or the other may already be ok on their own, but I do both consecutively every time just to be sure I remove everything. I’m sharing it here just in case anyone is trying to find a way to get around this challenge. It’s pretty cheap, simple, and effective.