The integration of smartphones in both personal and professional life has created a culture of vulnerability in which we walk around with our most sensitive information literally at the tips of our fingers. The results? A lucrative black market for data thieves eager to hack and sell passwords, credit card numbers and other personal data.
When was the last time you took stock in your digital footprint? For many, the answer is never. Recognizing that millions of users from your grandmother to your co-worker have likely had their private data exposed through phishing scams, data breaches and the sale of personal data. It’s time to consider the implications of leaving your personal data unguarded. The good news is that you don’t have to be a tech genius to protect yourself like one.
Whether a breach comes from a personality quiz or a pickpocket, here are a few tips to proactively protect your personal data.
1. Adopt a Passphrase
The first and most obvious step to protecting your information is to up your password game. Most passwords include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols – often featuring an easy-to-remember word, name or date. A passphrase, on the other hand, is a full seven- to 10-word phrase, including spaces. The length and complexity of a passphrase makes it nearly impossible for hackers to breach by computation, algorithms or even brute-force trial and error. The best passphrases are easy to remember but contain a personal connection or detail that makes them unique to you.
2. Keep Your Software Up To Date
Raise your hand if you’ve ever ignored a software update. Now keep it up if you’ve ever ignored it for days, weeks – even months. It’s no secret that operating system updates pose an inconvenience, but you could be missing out on valuable security enhancements every time you hit that “remind me tomorrow” button. The longer an OS version exists, the longer cybercriminals have to identify and exploit its weakness. With regular OS updates, you can minimize your exposure to security threats from malware, hacking and other data breaches. To ensure you never miss an update, simply enable automatic updates in your device’s settings.
3. Assess Your Digital Footprint
Remember MySpace? Even if you haven’t logged on since 2003, your profile information, instant message history and “top friends” list could still be contributing to your digital footprint years later. Though it may seem harmless, your outdated personal information – like expired credit cards, old email addresses and unused social media profiles – can make you an easy target for data thieves. The simplest way to audit your digital footprint is to enter your name in a search engine and then delete or deactivate any old accounts that pop up. As an additional precaution, visit your internet browser’s privacy settings and choose to disable third-party cookies to eliminate unwanted web tracking.
4. Download Selectively
If you have an Android phone, pay special attention here. Many Android phones allow for open source application downloads, which can leave your data vulnerable. Open source software saves companies time and money, but it does not always prioritize user security. Before downloading open source apps or software, always research the developers to verify that they have scanned their source code for potential security vulnerabilities.
5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication, sometimes referred to as 2FA, requires a username and password, plus another type of verification in order to access private information. Examples of two-factor authentication include entering a pin number, confirming an SMS code or providing a fingerprint scan. Though the extra step is usually a simple one, 2FA greatly decreases the chance of a personal data breach by pairing a username and password with a separate piece of information that only the user would know or have access to. Websites, apps and software from companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook all offer two-factor authentication to protect users’ data. If you have already done so, be sure to take advantage of this extra layer of protection.
6. Back Up Your Data
When a virus or hacker takes over a computer, the hard drive is often compromised. Back up your personal data to the cloud or an external hard drive to ensure easy data recovery in the event that your device is lost, stolen or compromised. Set a reminder in your calendar to back your devices weekly so that you can access the most up-to-date data in the event of a hard drive crash from malware or even just a device malfunction.
Though companies are actively seeking ways to better secure your personal data, you should remain proactive in protecting yourself. At the end of the day, minor adjustments to your security settings paired with a few extra steps to access your information will greatly reduce your chances of a personal data breach. Whether you want to bulk up your data security or simply limit how much information you share, these tips will help you become a smart, more informed user of tech.
Article by: Justin Wetherill