How to protect data: 7 essentials of personal information security
Nov 14, 2019
You’re practically a celebrity these days. Everyone wants to know about you — from paranoid governments to exiled Nigerian princes. And they’ll stop at nothing to get your details.
Fortunately, personal information security isn’t rocket science, it’s common sense. Here are 7 things you should definitely do to protect your private details data online.
1. Set strong passwords for everything
Does your phone have a password? Congratulations! You’re officially safer than half the planet.
A password is often the only thing standing between criminals and data, so don’t make it easy for them. Pick strong, unique passwords for all your accounts and devices.
A good password has at least 8 characters, using a combination of lower/upper case letters, numbers and symbols. If you’re having trouble remembering the resulting mishmash, download a reputable password manager.
2. Think before you click
Learn to spot a scam when you see one. Spelling errors, unfamiliar addresses, and sudden requests for personal details should put you on high alert. If you ever get a suspicious message, run down this quick checklist:
- Check if the sender’s legit. Find out if they’re using the company’s official email address by entering its name on Google and visiting their website. Be especially wary of extra periods, hyphens, or domain names in the address.
- Examine where the embedded links lead. Don’t click on anything — instead, hover over each link to see its true destination. If it looks fishy, you shouldn’t risk your personal data security to find out.
- Don’t download files you’re unsure about. Always check the extension and size to make sure you don’t get .zip, .rar, or .exe files in disguise.
Remember — if it feels off, it probably is.
3. Use two-factor authentication
TFA (two-factor authentication) adds an additional step to confirm your identity when logging in. Most commonly, you’ll be asked to enter a code sent to your mobile device.
Now hackers will need at least two passwords to get to your information. With really secure TFA, they’ll need to physically get their hands on your phone.
This extra security does come with a few drawbacks, though. TFA can get old fast if you need to jump through hoops every time you log in. And if your authentication device gets lost or stolen, you can kiss any accounts tied to your phone number or authenticator apps goodbye.
4. Be careful when surfing on public Wi-Fi
When it comes to security, free Wi-Fi often carries a very steep cost. Even password-protected public networks can be cracked. Once someone’s in, they can monitor your online traffic or log any personal info you enter, like banking details.
So how do you protect yourself? The best way is to simply avoid sending sensitive data until you’re connected to a secure network back home. If it can’t wait, at least encrypt your traffic using a virtual private network (VPN) to make it harder for any online snoops.
5. Get yourself a VPN
VPNs protect personal information by hiding your real IP address and routing your web traffic through an encrypted tunnel. Anyone trying to eavesdrop will only see random gibberish.
A VPN will keep your online activities secret from your ISP and outsiders, but not the VPN provider itself. That’s why the best VPNs combine secure encryption with a zero-logs policy. For example, NordVPN operates out of Panama, which has no mandatory data retention laws.
Does that mean that you can go hog-wild with your private info? Well, no. A VPN won’t cover data you voluntarily make public, such as pictures you share over Facebook or the exact time that you log in with your username.
6. Browse with Tor
If you’re really serious about protecting your personal details, switch over to the free Tor browser.
Tor protects your online identity by bouncing encrypted web traffic at random between different relays of its volunteer network. As a result, websites can’t tell where you came from (but they can tell you’re using Tor).
Unfortunately, browsing can feel very slow at times due to all the hoops your data is jumping through. And not all websites accept Tor connections — you’ll face a number of 404 pages until you figure out what works.
7. Encrypt your files
So far, we’ve only talked about how to prevent unwanted access to your data. But these measures aren’t fool-proof. If you crack one, the whole system can topple like dominoes — unless you encrypt your data.
Encryption software keeps your information safe from intruders. To anyone without the proper key, your files will look like a garbled mess. As such, you can safely upload encrypted data to cloud storage or share it over vulnerable networks, like Messenger.
Elisa’s all about languages. She speaks five, loves stand-up comedy, and is writing her first novel. Besides her extensive knowledge of cybersecurity, she’s an expert in persuasion techniques hackers use and strives to teach people how to avoid online scams.