You need to know how to protect your data these days. We send data every day through the internet. One wrong move and your life can forever change.
Now, data travels in many ways:
- Social media
- Chat apps
- The cloud
So, I’ve become more paranoid myself over the years. Especially as my digital footprint continues to grow.
I know we all have some level of sensitive personal information online. This creates more prying eyes and hungry hackers.
That said, I used to always read in the news about credit card fraud and identity theft. I never thought it would happen to me.
Then out of the blue, I received a letter from the superior court in California. The letter read that my personal information may be compromised.
Long story short, I instantly learned more about how to protect your data. So, I’m going to cover 34 practical ways on how to protect your data online.
This way you can enjoy and safely use the internet. Let’s get started.
1. Encrypt your data
Encrypting your data may sound difficult and confusing. But, you can find plenty of free apps and tools to help you.
I use Cryptomator myself. A great free open source tool.
The software will scramble your data making it almost impossible for anyone to read. This will protect data stored on your computer. Also, any data you send over the internet.
We call this encrypted unreadable format “cipher text”.
2. Back up your data on an external drive
Sounds easy enough. But many people don’t do it.
Create a duplicate copy of your data in case you lose your device. Also, to protect yourself from theft or hardware damage.
So, backup your data on a separate piece of hardware. Then store this external drive somewhere safe.
If something ever goes wrong, you can instantly access your data. Your data will always remain at your fingertips.
I’ve used hard drives from most major manufacturers. You can’t go wrong with any of them. Usually, the best choice comes down to price.
I’ve used the following drives found on Amazon, and I haven’t had any issues:
- WD 2 TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive
- Seagate Portable 2TB External Hard Drive Portable HDD
- Toshiba Canvio Basics 1TB Portable External Hard Drive
3. Backups to the cloud are an option
Backing up to the cloud works great. Very unlikely that one of the big cloud services like Google or Amazon will lose your data.
I like to store my nonsensitive data on cloud services. This way I can instantly access my data anywhere. Also, on any device.
Then once monthly I transfer the data over to my external drive. The external drive then becomes a second backup.
Many companies offer cloud service storage and for free. If you need more storage space, you can cheaply pay a small monthly fee.
4. Malware protection
You’ve heard about viruses infecting your computer. Downloading the wrong attachment, or opening a mystery file.
Malicious software or malware poses a huge threat to your computer. Malware will infiltrate your computer without you knowing. Malware can include spyware, viruses, worms, and Trojan horses to name a few.
This damaging software can embed itself in websites and emails. But, you’ll find them hidden in downloadable files, photos, and videos.
So avoid Malware by using and running a good anti-virus protection program. The programs I recommend include:
- Microsoft Common Sense
These programs will scan your device for various forms of malware. Also, these programs will give you the least issues.
On top of that, make good judgment calls. If a file looks suspicious, don’t open it! This alone is a life-saving tip in how to protect your data.
5. Keep your operating system up to date
No matter what operating system you use, keep it updated. These updates most always include vital security patches.
The patches can address weaknesses in your computer. These weaknesses can come from recently discovered malware or virus threats.
By not updating your operating system, you’ll leave yourself open to attacks. So, set your computer up for auto-updates.
Or at the very least, to receive notifications on system updates. This way you’ll always stay one step ahead of weak points in your computer’s security.
6. Automatic software updates
Update your apps. The same reasoning as we discussed in tip #6.
This includes updating any third-party malware, anti-virus, and spyware prevention and detection programs. Set these apps for auto-update. This will help better protect your data.
7. Secure your home wireless network
Protect your wireless network. Use a strong password to prevent unauthorized access to your home network. This way you’ll avoid sharing your private data with people without your permission.
To that end, many routers come with a default wifi password that you should change. Also, hide your Wi-Fi network so it doesn’t broadcast your network name.
8. Shut down your computer
Don’t leave your computer on 24 hours a day seven days a week if you’re not using it. You can overheat your computer in some instances.
Think of a hot room or a computer with weak fans. This can crash your computer. You’ll then possibly lose all your data.
So, after you’ve finished your computer work for the day, power off your computer to keep your data safe. Unless you know for sure your computer won’t overheat.
Firewalls will help block dangerous attacks against your computer. Think of viruses and spyware.
You can use the many available software-based firewalls. But, the hardware-based firewalls provide a higher level of security.
A hardware firewall is usually a software firewall running on specialized hardware. Also, a hardware firewall physically separates your computer from the internet.
For example, the firewalls in network routers. These routers are separate pieces of equipment, not part of your computer. Thus, creating an added outside layer of protection.
As an analogy, think of a firewall as the walls of a castle. They’ll only let good things through the castle doors. As a result, the walls protect the people inside.
So, I always think it’s best to use both a hardware firewall and a software firewall to increase security. Both have their place in protecting your data.
10. Consider a passphrase
You may have heard of a passphrase. It differs from a password.
You can choose a favorite movie quote, book, or song lyric. Anything unique to you.
The passphrase can also have spaces. For example: “This’ll be my new password for 30 days!”
You can even use the first letter of a series of words in your passphrase. Then combine it with a combination of numbers and or special characters. This will make it more difficult for malicious code or hackers to crack.
11. Automatically lock devices
Whether your home computer or smartphone, lock your devices. Set up your device for it to automatically lock after a short delay of non-use.
This way, nearby strangers can’t gain access if you leave your device unattended. Or, in many cases, if someone steals your device.
In short, you may lose your phone, but at least your data will more than likely remain safe.
12. Don’t keep passwords on your devices
Very tempting to store your passwords on your devices in your notepad. But try not to do this.
You don’t want someone to log into all your accounts on top of having your phone stolen. Even if you think you have cryptic account references, you’re still playing with fire.
13. Turn off media and file sharing
Sometimes you may want to connect many devices to your home wireless network. You may do this to share files, information, and other media.
Or, you use peer-to-peer file-sharing networks to download various things. By doing this, you expose yourself to other network users.
So, use safe sites for file sharing. Also, don’t constantly leave your network open. Make it impossible for unknown devices to connect to your network.
For new devices, quickly turn on your SSID broadcast so your new devices see the network. Once your devices connect to the network, make the network hidden again.
By hiding your network, you can more easily block unwanted visitors.
14. USB drive and SIM card encryption
Do you carry important data on a USB drive for easy access? If yes, then encrypting the USB drive data will make accessing the data more difficult if it’s lost or stolen.
The same applies to the SIM card of your phone. These quite often contain valuable data on you and people close to you.
So, if you list your old phone for sale, don’t forget to remove the SIM card. A simple but often forgotten way in how to protect your data.
15. Overwriting deleted files
Getting rid of an old hard drive? Then give the hard drive a good whack with a hammer.
Deleting files from your device by hitting the delete button alone won’t do the job. If you delete a file from a device, it doesn’t mean it’s unrecoverable.
Hackers and criminals can use tools to recover your deleted information. So use apps that will completely overwrite your old data.
Or, if you want to completely scrap a device, then introduce your device to a hammer.
16. Delete your old files from the cloud storage
Backing up your data to cloud storage facilities can provide that extra bit of security. But, if you delete your data from your local device, you’ll still have a copy on the cloud storage servers.
So, always remember to delete your unwanted data in both places. This way, you won’t have unwanted copies floating around.
17. Privacy settings
Many apps have privacy settings you can toggle. So, review the privacy settings of an app. Then determine what level and type of information you want to store and share online.
I always find it best to select the option with the least amount of data sharing as possible. Some apps offer individual permission levels and privacy settings.
Also, you can use a tracking app to further protect your data. You would need to allow the app to track the location of your phone.
So, if you lose your device, you can track its whereabouts using the app. Or, in the case of theft, you can remotely wipe the data from the device.
18. Lock your devices
No matter what device you may have, always lock it with a password or passphrase. If your device gets lost or stolen, this will make accessing it much more difficult.
Whoever has your device will need to crack your password or passphrase to access your data. So, locking your device adds another layer of protection.
19. Be careful when using public Wi-Fi
Using public Wi-Fi has its benefits but it’s also a hotspot for criminals and hackers to steal your data. If you use public Wi-Fi, don’t, for example, complete banking transactions. Also, don’t send out any personal information.
Try and keep your online activity to web browsing only. Also, avoid any sites where you need to use your username and password to gain access.
To that end, use an encrypted password-protected Wi-Fi network when you send sensitive data.
20. Always sign out
When you access your personal accounts online, don’t merely minimize or close the web page. Always ensure you log out of the application. Especially if you’ve accessed your information in a public space.
21. Never open emails from unknown senders
We all receive emails every day from unknown or unsolicited people. So, keep a close eye out for unknown emails with attached files. Particularly, files with .exe extensions.
These attachments can destroy your computer and make you go crazy. They most often than not contain malware and other malicious software.
If you’re unsure of the origin of the email, then delete these emails immediately. Thankfully, most of these types of emails go directly into your spam folder. But, still, keep an eye out.
22. Two-factor authentication
Use two-factor authentication as an extra layer of security and protection. This way, if a hacker manages to guess your password or passphrase, you’ll stay protected.
They’ll need a second authentication code to gain access to your personal information.
In this step, you can add a question-answer or specific pin. Some of the more prominent websites will either email or send a text to you to proceed.
On the mobile platform, you have many two-step authentication apps available.
23. Use secure websites
Be smart with the websites you visit. Especially if you want to make financial transactions online, or share sensitive data.
Use secure websites. Look for SSL (Secure Socket Layers) on websites. A common security protocol that adds more protection for online transmitted data.
So, websites that begin with HTTPS:// are SSL secure. You may also see a padlock symbol on the far left of the address bar.
24. Links in emails
Don’t click on suspicious email attachments. Especially files with .exe extensions.
You may receive emails from supposed banks and other service providers. To be on the safe side, open a separate browser and type in or copy and paste the link in the address bar.
By doing this, you avoid phishing schemes where hackers try and gain access to your personal data. These bogus links could lead to you inadvertently giving away your personal information.
Imagine accidentally giving your bank routing and account number to a hacker. Nightmare!
Further, when you go to a site from a link, check the URL. If you think you’re linking to Wells Fargo, don’t get fooled and land on www.awellsfargo.com.
25. Avoid downloading from unknown websites
Many websites use peer to peer file sharing where you can download anything you want. These illegal sites are rife with malware and other malicious software.
If you don’t trust a website, don’t download files from them. Just because a site looks legitimate, it doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Google the website domain or research it on Reddit. This way you can verify the safety of a website.
For most websites, if you find nothing on them online, then stay away.
26. Saving passwords in your browser
I know, it’s very convenient when a browser saves your login info for various websites. But, this in itself is a dangerous practice.
If someone were to gain access to your device, they can easily access all your secure accounts. So, don’t save your login information, especially for a bank website.
27. Ad tracking
All the large tech giants run on ads. From Facebook to Google.
These tech giants track a lot of your online activity. As a result, you receive ads from them tailored to you.
You can limit how much information these sites collect by opting out of ad tracking on your devices. This will keep your personal information more private.
28. Website privacy settings
Some websites offer privacy options to protect your online privacy. Also, to help protect against breaches.
For example, with the more notable streaming services, you can upload private videos. Or, videos viewable only to select people.
So, navigate to the control panel or settings menu of the website. Then edit the site’s security options.
To further protect your data, learn about websites you use a lot. Navigate the menus and get an understanding of the privacy and security controls.
29. Don’t send sensitive information over unsecured networks
Never send passwords, passphrases, or account info over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. If you do, you’ll broadcast to everyone.
People within the range of the wireless signal can access your account information.
Hackers can intercept your information. They can steal your bank account info, commit fraud in your name, or even steal your identity.
30. Store sensitive data locally
No guarantees exist over real online data privacy. For example, it doesn’t matter if you pay for even the best cloud service.
You must decide if you really need to keep your sensitive information in the cloud for easy access at all times.
If you don’t frequently access this sensitive data, then store it locally. Forget about storing it in the cloud.
Instead, use a removable hard drive or USB device as your backup. You can even use several of them for redundancy.
The benefits of doing this are two-fold. Firstly, you can keep the backup device hidden until you need it.
Secondly, it keeps your sensitive data offline. Thus, people can’t steal your data.
31. Encrypted cloud service
Use a reputable cloud service if you need to use such a service for backing up sensitive data. With less reliable cloud services, you can lose your data to hackers.
Higher-end cloud services can provide encryption and decryption of your files and data. This on top of the standard storage and backup services.
This means the service will handle the encryption and decryption of your data in the cloud. This will add an extra layer of online data protection.
32. Social networking
I think of social media today like drinking water. Everyone knows about it, and everyone uses it.
But, you can inadvertently share too much personal information on your profiles. This poses a risk to your online data.
I’ve seen one too many times where people share their phone number, home address, and much more. For this reason, hackers prey on social media.
They use the information they find on you to guess your login information to various accounts. As a rule of thumb, never post information you don’t want strangers to know.
33. Blocking on social media
Most of the social media apps have a feature in the privacy settings where you can block people. In some circumstances, you need to block people.
Don’t feel bad about it. It comes with the territory. You don’t need to be friends with everybody.
When unknown people befriend you, don’t blindly think they’re a fan. They may proceed to ask you personal questions or pressure you for information.
This becomes a major security risk. You need to prevent this unwanted attention from a stranger.
So, don’t fear to block people that make you feel uneasy. It’s a great way in how to protect your data.
34. Regular privacy checks
Many apps constantly update to improve your online experience. As a result, their privacy options constantly update too as they improve.
Thus, it’s wise to always check and adjust the in-app privacy settings. Tailor them to your specific needs to safeguard yourself from unwanted hacking.
Final thoughts on How to Protect Your Data
In this day and age, every person I know connects to the internet in some way. Whether at work, home or socially, we all expose ourselves to hackers and criminals on a daily basis.
So, become vigilant and careful in how you approach online security. With some minor tweaks to your routine, you’ll master how to protect your data.
Often, simple security solutions work the best. These changes may make your life more difficult but they’ll save you a big headache down the road.
What methods do you use to keep your online data safe? How worried are you with every activity transitioning to the online world?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over a decade now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, and our history and future.