Protecting your personal data
Like many people, you might have been working from home during these successive rounds of lockdown and other restrictions. That remote working may have made you more aware of the lengths to which your employer or the companies you are dealing with go to protect the data they use.
Against that background, though, it may be timely to remember that it is not only sensitive commercial or corporate data that is at risk of intrusion from hackers, malware, and other threats – your own personal information and data is at just as much risk the moment you log-on to your computer or pick up your smartphone.
So, let’s take a closer look at what is vulnerable and what steps you might take to protect your personal data.
Your systems are vulnerable for as long as they are switched on and especially if they remain connected to the internet. Remind yourself that for as long as your computer, laptop or tablet remains connected to the internet, scammers, hackers, and other intruders have untrammelled access to your systems and personal data.
The answer is simple, suggests, CS Identity (CSID) a division of credit reference agency Experian – whenever you finish using your computer, tablet or laptop, just switch it off.
The royal road to accessing your personal data is via the passwords you use to theoretically bar access. Every part of your system needs to be password-protected – from the internet router, to access to your devices, and entry to every document and account stored on your computer, tablet, laptop, or smartphone.
Don’t fall into the trap of using passwords you can easily remember – if you can remember them, hackers are likely to break them too, warned an article in PC magazine on the 18th of November 2020, when it listed some 200 “laughably insecure” but commonly used passwords.
Use unique passwords for every separate account, making them complex – with lower- and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols that are unique for every use. There are simple but safe and secure programs and apps in which you can store all your passwords – TechRadar published a list of them on the 5th of January 2021.
Or you can old school and write them down. Make sure you use a “disguised” internet password book such as one from Amazon that looks like it is about kittens.
Once upon a time, the thought of encrypting your emails and files might have been something out of a futuristic thriller.
In practice, it is relatively easy to do these days, thanks to the proliferation of easy to use encryption tools and programs – many of which are free to use.
Make a particular point of encrypting data you have stored on removable devices such as SIM cards, SD cards and USB drives.
It is all very well password-protecting your systems and encrypting your files and email, but if your computer is still infected by malware or ransomware, the chances are that the whole system will crash.
If that happens your only means of recovering your precious personal data is from back-up files that you keep regularly updated. They also let you recover files or data that might have been accidentally deleted or lost.
An alternative to maintaining you’re your own physical hard drives for back-up, you might want to consider cloud storage - GDPR compliant cloud storage is especially secure, argued a posting by the website Bitcatcha on the 12th of January 2021.
System and software updates
Ensure that your operating system, programmes, and apps are kept up to date.
If you are using Windows 10, of course, you may opt to allow automatic updates – a useful feature, since they come through quite regularly (about once a month). Others might take a little more investigation, but, once again, software is available to remind you whenever particular programs need updating.
For fairly obvious reasons, with so many shops currently closed, there has been an explosion in purchases online.
If you are shopping online, before entering any payment details onto any website, check that its address begins with “https” – where “s” stands for secure.
If possible, click on the site’s VeriSign symbol to confirm its identity and use a high-security browser that shows a green EV SSL address bar.
With more of us confined to our homes during the current lockdowns, social media platforms may have become even more important than ever for keeping in touch with friends and colleagues.
For some reason, social media users seem to be especially lax when it comes to choosing secure passwords – instead, resorting to such readily-hackable combinations as children’s names, birth dates, and addresses. Exercise care, caution, and security when choosing the passwords to your social media accounts – and change them regularly.
Avoid posting any information likely to make you vulnerable – such as your upcoming diary or schedule, your address, or additional contact details.
If you allow others to post information about you on your social media pages, exercise the caution you would use if releasing those same details to strangers.
Once it’s online, it’s always online, warns internet security specialists Norton, so be careful with the identifiable information you use – and others share – on your social media platforms and be choosy about the sites you sign up to.
Personal data protection
These are just some of the precautions you might take to protect your personal data. Nothing online is ever likely to be 100% secure but, continue to use the internet with confidence, in the knowledge you have exercised as much care and caution as possible.
This data is correct as at the time of writing.