Five Easy Things You Can Do to Protect Your Personal Data
The cyber landscape is rapidly changing.
As new technologies hit the market such as smart TVs, wearable devices like Fit Bit, and smart watches, individuals are struggling to protect their personal information. More and more of our personal data is digital and in constant motion. We utilize any number of online services. We do everything from booking a flight to doing taxes to attending school online.
You more than likely heard about the data breaches from such high-profile companies as Target, Home Depot, and Sony. The amount of data being stolen is at an all-time high. The bad guys aren’t curious hackers anymore looking to satisfy intellectual curiosity. Nation states are spending millions to breach systems. Cyber crime is big business. Hacktivism, which is the act of hacking, or breaking into a computer system, for a politically or socially motivated purpose, is on the rise.
Most people just want to be able to use the Internet without worrying. Unfortunately, this idea isn’t the reality we live in today. All of this potential danger seems quite overwhelming, so you have to ask yourself what you can do to protect your data. Make yourself aware, educated, and able to take action to prevent your personal data from being made public.
Here are five things you can do to protect yourself online:
1. Create smart and strong passwords. Make it difficult for hackers to crack your password. You can create a smart password by incorporating capital letters, numbers, special characters, and using more than six characters.
An example of a strong password is: Go1dM!n3.
If you want a higher level of security use a passphrase. Example: Mh@LI1fwW@s (Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow) TIP: It may be easier to remember a passphrase and then sprinkle in special characters.
Do not use the same password for everything. If the bad guys get hold of one password, they now have access to ALL of your data. If you can’t remember a bunch of different passwords for all of your websites at least try it for the ones with sensitive personal data like banking, stock trading, and online tax services.
Rotate your passwords on a regular basis. I can’t emphasize this recommendation enough. Rotate early and often if you can.
2. Secure your home WiFi. The FCC has a great website on securing your home WiFi network at http://www.fcc.gov/guides/protecting-your-wireless-network.
3. Use email and Instant Messaging (IM) wisely. Never send your credit card information, Social Security number, or other private information by email or IM. Any vendor who would need this information SHOULD have a secure platform to do it.
Phishing scams use fraudulent emails, texts messages, phone calls, and fake web sites, masquerading as legitimate businesses, to lure unsuspecting users into revealing private account or login information. To be safe, if you receive an email from a business that includes a link to a web site, make certain that the web site you visit is legitimate. Instead of clicking through to the site from within the email, open a separate Web browser and visit the business’ web site directly to perform the necessary actions. You can also verify that an email is in fact from a legitimate business by calling the business or agency directly.
4. ALWAYS check for the S. Http is open to sniffing and subversion of traffic. Ensure the sites you use have an https URL to keep your data private and secure. You can also check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears at the bottom right of the browser window. If it does, you are good to go.
5. Use a Personal Identification Number (PIN) or some lock feature on your phone/tablet. For most individuals, a four digit PIN is enough to thwart the bad guys.
Remember: This list isn’t the ultimate guide to staying secure. But the best thing you can do is to make the bad guy’s job hard. The harder you make it, the more likely they are to move on to an easier target. If you only remember one thing it’s this: Don’t be an easy target.
Written by: Rick McElroy, Director of Information Security for Bridgepoint Education.