Protecting Yourself in the Digital World – 3 Tips for Data Security
Always connected, the truth is that we rarely go an hour without checking a phone, computer or tablet. Wi-Fi has become a common amenity in restaurants, coffee shops, and community gathering spaces, giving us untethered access to everything from Facebook to online banking. While the convenience of technology at our fingertips is beneficial, it is not without costs. We regularly praise connectedness and availability, but many users do not understand the access they grant to others while surfing the net. Using those conveniently placed free hotspots or replying to sweepstakes emails can be the beginning of a security nightmare if you’re not careful.
For example, many people do not realize that when you log on to a Wi-Fi access point, the owner is able to track all unencrypted data on their network. While many will never do anything with this data, there are those who are not as benevolent with their intentions. In our ever-connected world, it is important to take note of the simple steps that can help protect you from data thieves. Here are three tips for keeping your data safe.
- Free Wi-Fi: Many people don’t realize that using a public Wi-Fi can open the door for anyone monitoring that network to see what they are doing and potentially steal information. Make sure that all browsing activity is secure by using HTTPS and always check to make sure that the network you are connecting to is legitimate. Cases of “honeypot” networks, or fake networks hackers set up to steal information, have become a serious issue. Try to use a server that requires a passcode, such as those that require a purchase at the coffee shop, and avoid accessing sensitive information such as bank accounts away from your home network whenever possible.
- Passwords: This is an old piece of advice but one that many take for granted. All of your passwords should be stronger than a simple word or phrase. Never use easily accessible data (birthday, address, etc.) to build your password. A combination of capitalization, numbers, and special characters give you greater security than a simple alphanumeric password. Don’t use the same password for everything. For the greatest security, use a password generator, which develops passwords containing a random selection of characters. These non-word passwords are harder to crack even with a key logger. Worried about the hassle of more complicated passwords? Apps such as 1Password or LastPass allow you to securely save passwords to frequently used sites on selected devices and access them with one password. This allows for greater site security with complex passwords while still granting you easier access to your data.
- Beware Phishing Emails: These email attacks often come disguised as messages from your bank or other commonly trusted sources. Your bank will never ask you to divulge personal information via email or complete forms within an email. All activity should be completed via their portal. And remember, if the email you’re reading is from an imposter, any links they provide will likely send you to a website that is also an imposter of the real site. If you click a link and login to the imposter site, you’ve just handed over your real login information to the imposter. Instead of clicking the links in the email, go straight to the site in your web browser. You can log into your account and view the Message Center as most banks will send any communications through this portal as well. Also to be noted, clicking on the links can open your computer to viruses.
The convenience of digital tools and access often make our lives easier, but it also requires us to be diligent in how we manage and protect our personal data. These are just a few of the ways consumers can protect themselves in the digital world. What other safety tips can you suggest?