Data Security Basics: 10 Easy Steps for Digital Self Defense
We race through today’s world leaving a trail of data behind us, from information about which Buzzfeed lists we’ve enjoyed to personally identifiable information that cyber criminals can use to “borrow” our identities or our bank accounts. When we’re so busy, we easily forget about data security…until it’s too late. But there are some quick and easy steps we can take to save us from some major headaches and defend our digital selves.
Use secure passwords that are difficult to guess
Use a unique password for each account – yes, every single one. If you have trouble keeping them straight or for even greater data security, use a password manager that will produce complex, unique passwords and encrypt your master key. Also, don’t forget to immediately change the factory password when you get a new device, since 1-2-3-4 is every hacker’s first guess. Make sure it’s a complicated password with a series of unique features (like capital letters, special characters) to make it extra tricky.
Be wary of public networks
It’s easy for data thieves to spy on information sent over public networks. Only send sensitive information over secure connections. This includes bank account and credit card numbers, accessing your email or other accounts that require a password. If you’re some place that you wouldn’t read your credit card number out loud, don’t type it either.
Install those updates
Software updates contain software patches that help secure devices from newly developed digital attacks and malware. Keep up-to-date with updates to have the most up-to-date data security. Update! Just had to say it one more time.
Use anti-virus / anti-malware software
Many digital attacks use software that has to be installed on your device, often accidentally downloaded from emails or websites. Make sure your anti-virus software is active and working properly. A good rule of thumb is that if a message or link looks suspicious, don’t click!
Use a firewall
Most computer operating systems have firewalls that allow you to connect to the network. Firewalls help protect your computer from outside connections, pre. Make sure your firewall is turned on and working properly or it won’t do you much good. Also, don’t ignore those annoying little popups when your firewall blocks a connection.
Be Intentional about privacy settings
Customize your privacy settings on your apps and social media sites to limit your who can see your information. Make sure you know what your current settings are and be careful to limit how much personal information you share. Don’t be that person who Instagrams the pretty picture on your credit card.
Sign up for alerts
Get an email or text message alert for things that could potentially be stolen from you. This includes every time you use your credit card to load a store card from your bank account. This will help you recognize any unusual transactions as soon as they happen, just in case you didn’t actually buy those seven new laptops somewhere in Canada.
Check your credit report
Monitor your credit report regularly for anything unexpected that you may not have approved. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) will provide one free credit report every 12 months to help you stay aware of any credit surprises.
Use two-factor authentication
Use two-factor authentication when you access sensitive information. This requires a username and a piece of information or a code sent to your phone. Only authorized users will know or have access to this information. This provides an extra layer of data security that makes it harder to hack your accounts or steal your personal information. Think about it: how many people know that you named your first goldfish after your favorite Power Ranger?
Back up your data
Have a secure, encrypted backup of your important files and keep it in a secure place away from your computer. That way, you can still access a clean copy of your important digital info if your phone or computer is stolen or attacked by malicious software. The trick is to back up your data often – or even better, automatically – even if that means coughing up the extra dollar every month for extra cloud storage.
Even applying all of these steps won’t completely erase the risk of hackers accessing your information. You should always stay vigilant when it comes to your personal information and always stay updated about how to maintain your data security.