As we all become more connected to the World Wide Web via email, internet, social media and a range of other platforms it is becoming increasingly important for us to protect our data and other sensitive personal information from prying eyes and hackers online.
Every day you read online about credit card fraud, identity theft and personal information being leaked to the web. There is plenty of information available to help you keep your devices safe from these attacks, but sifting through all the apps and data available can be quite confusing.
By properly securing your PC’s, laptops and mobile devices from hackers, malware apps and other online threats, you can minimize the chance of getting hacked and having your critical information, passwords and data being exposed or stolen.
Let’s look at some highly effective ways to protect yourself and your data using some straightforward and practical tips for keeping your information private and protecting your hardware and online data.
1. Encrypting your data
The thought of encrypting your data may sound a little imposing at first, but there are plenty of freely available apps and tools to help you do this. The software will scramble your data making it almost impossible for anyone to decipher.
2. Backing up your data
An often overlooked data protection tip is backing up your data to create a duplicate copy of your important information and data in case any of your devices are lost, stolen or compromised in any way. This will mean you do not lose it.
It is always advisable to back up your data onto separate hardware such as an external hard drive which you can safely tuck away. If something were to occur, you can easily restore your information and data if and when needed. In order to keep this data as up to date as possible, you should schedule regular backups.
3. Backups to the cloud are an option
Backing up to the cloud can be an ideal solution for data backups as the data is not stored on any local device and can be accessed from just about anywhere. There are many companies which offer these services for free up to a certain amount of storage. If your data size exceeds the free storage available, you can pay for additional space.
4. Malware protection is strongly advised
Malicious software or malware as it is known is a common and serious threat to many computer users. Malware is designed to infiltrate your computer without you knowing and can include spyware, viruses, worms, and Trojan horses to name a few.
This insidious software can be embedded in websites and emails, but are most commonly found hidden in downloadable files, photos, and videos.
The best way to avoid potential infection is to have and run a good anti-virus protection program which you can use to scan for the various forms of malware
5. Keep operating system up to date
No matter what operating system you use, it is necessary to keep the operating system updated. More often than not, the updates to the operating system will contain vital security patches that will patch out any flaws or weaknesses and protect your computer from any recently discovered malware or virus threats.
By not keeping the operating systems software up to date, you are leaving yourself wide open to potentially unwanted viruses and malware. It is advisable that you set up the operating system to automatically update whenever new patches become available.
6. Automatic software updates
As above, any third party malware, anti-virus, and spyware prevention and detection programs should also be set up to automatically update, ensuring that any potential risk to your data and information is reduced
7. Securing your home wireless network
In order to prevent unauthorized individuals gaining access to your home network, it is strongly recommended that you set up a unique password for your network. You do not want to inadvertently share private information or data with people without your permission.
Many routers come with a default wifi password which could be compromised. It is in your best interest to create a unique password for your home network. Another safeguard is to hide your Wi-Fi network so that it does not broadcast the network name, and set up the router to prevent showing your SSID (Service Set Identifier).
8. Shut down your computer
If you leave your computer on 24 hours a day seven days a week, you increase your risk of a security breach. This increases the possibility of sensitive information and data being accessed by hackers or scammers who might install malware, spyware and commit other cyber-crimes.
After you have finished your tasks or web surfing for the day, power off your computer to keep your data safe.
Firewalls are very useful because they assist in blocking unwanted and dangerous viruses, programs or spyware before they can infiltrate your system. There are software-based firewalls available but the hardware-based firewalls such as those found in network routers provide a higher level of security against potentially harmful software.
10. Consider a passphrase
There is a difference between a password and a passphrase. A passphrase can be a favorite quote from a movie, book or song lyric, something that is easy for you to remember. Using the first letter of each word in the passphrase combined with a combination of numbers and or special characters, will make it harder for malicious code or hackers to crack.
11. Automatically lock devices
Whether it is your home or office computer, or your smartphones and tablet devices, it is a smart security measure to ensure that all your devices automatically lock themselves after a short delay to prevent possible access by undesirable elements.
So if any of your computers or devices are lost or stolen, they will have locked themselves thereby preventing access to your data and personal information
12. Do not keep passwords on your devices
As crazy as this may sound, it has been done. Do not leave reminders lying around to help you remember your passwords or passphrases, even if they are slightly cryptic.
13. Turn off media and file sharing
You may have multiple devices connected to your home wireless network in order to make the sharing of files, information, and other media convenient for you and your family. Is it necessary to make this data publicly available? If not, then disable this feature within your network. Only share the data or folders only on your home network
14. USB drive and SIM card encryption
If you find that you often carry important data, files or information on a USB drive for easy access, encrypting the USB drive data makes it more difficult to access the data should the USB drive become lost or stolen.
The same applies to the SIM card of your phone. These quite often contain valuable data and personal details of friends, colleagues and family. If you are selling your old phone to upgrade to a newer version or another brand, don’t forget to remove the SIM card.
15. Overwriting deleted files
So you have deleted your files from your device leaving it blank. Deleting a file of a device does not mean it is unrecoverable. There are tools which hackers and criminals can use to recover the deleted information, compromising your security. You can download apps and tools which will completely overwrite your old data on your devices so the data cannot be recovered.
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 don’t forget if you delete your data from your local device, there is still a copy on the cloud storage servers. So if you delete data from your local device, don’t forget to delete the same data from your cloud storage account.
17. Privacy settings
Many applications have privacy settings which the user can enable to determine what level and type of information is stored or shared online. It is best to select the least amount of data sharing as possible. Some systems offer individual permission levels and privacy settings for most mobile apps.
Another way to prevent your data and personal information from being compromised is to enable a tracking app. In the case of your device being lost or stolen, you can track its whereabouts using the software, or in the case of theft, you can remotely wipe the data on the device.
18. Lock your devices
No matter what device you may have, be it a personal computer or a smartphone or tablet, always lock it with a password or passphrase. In the event your device gets lost or stolen, this will make access to the device difficult because whoever has the device has to crack the password or passphrase in order to access your data or personal information. 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 is also a hotspot for criminals and hackers to steal user information. If you are to use public Wi-Fi, try not to conduct any banking transactions or the sending of any personal information or data over the public Wi-Fi network.
Try and keep your online activity to web browsing only and avoid any sites where you need to use your username and password to gain access. If you have to conduct sensitive transactions on a public Wi-Fi network, use an encrypted password protected Wi-Fi network.
20. Always sign out
Whenever you need to access your personal accounts online, make sure that you do not merely minimise or close the web page, always ensure that you have logged or signed out of the application, especially if you have accessed your information in a public space.
21. Never open email from unknown persons
We all receive emails every day from unknown or unsolicited people. It is critical that you keep a close eye out for emails with files attached, particularly those with a .exe extension. These are rarely safe and most often than not contain malware and other malicious software.
If you are unsure of the origin of the email, in order to protect your personal information and data, it is best to delete these emails immediately if any suspicion arises.
22. Two-factor authentication
An additional layer of security and protection to consider is two-factor authentication. The benefits to this are that in the event that a hacker or other criminal element manages to guess your password or passphrase they will need a second authentication code to gain access to your personal information or data.
The second step in the authentication process could be the answer to a secret question or a specific pin code that is required. Some of the more prominent websites will either email or send a text to you in order to proceed. On the mobile platform, there are a number of two-step authentication apps available
23. Use secure websites
If you are to conduct any financial transactions online or any sharing of sensitive personal information or data, always make sure that you are using a secure website to do so. SSL (Secure Socket Layers) is one of the most common website security protocols in place that adds additional protection for any data that is sent on the internet.
Websites which begin with HTTPS:// are secure and some of them may display a padlock on the far left of the address bar.
24. Links in emails
As with not clicking on files attached to emails with a .exe extension, the same measures should be taken with links in the emails you receive. You will receive emails from banks and other accounts and services you use. To be on the safe side, rather open a separate browser and type in or copy and paste the link in the address bar.
The reason you should do this is because phishing emails as they are called is one of the most common ways hackers try and gain access to your personal information and data. These bogus links could lead to you inadvertently giving away your personal details passwords and even banking details.
25. Avoid downloading from unknown websites
There are a lot of websites that use peer to peer file sharing, and these are often times illegal sites that are rife with malware and other malicious software. If you don’t trust the website, do not download files from them. According to research, many of the top peer to peer sites are full of malware and files specifically designed to compromise your security.
26. Saving passwords in your browser
It is convenient to have your browser save your username and passwords for various websites, but this in itself is a dangerous practice. If someone were to gain access to your computer or other device they can, if you have saved login details to the browser, have easy access to your data and information. As convenient as it may seem, this is a practice which you must avoid to ensure the security of your data online.
27. Ad tracking
Online advertising is big business and online ads track your online usage and send ads to you based on your online surfing and social media use. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm these days, but you can limit how much information is collected about your habits by opting out of ad tracking on your computers or handheld devices. A bit of research should help you in this regard.
28. Website privacy settings
Some websites also offer privacy options to help protect your online privacy and protect against breaches. Some of the more notable streaming services allow the user to make uploaded videos private or viewable only by selected people. By navigating to the control panel or settings menu of the website you can make specific changes to the security options.
To further protect your data from being accessed when you are online, navigate the menus and get an understanding of the privacy and security controls which are available to you on the website.
29. Do not send sensitive information over unsecured networks
It cannot be stressed enough that you should never send any passwords, passphrases or account login information over an open or unsecured Wi-Fi connection. By doing this you are actually broadcasting to everyone within the range of the wireless signal your personal and account information.
Hackers or criminals can intercept the information and can compromise your bank accounts, commit fraud in your name or even steal your identity.
30. Store your data locally
There are no guarantees of real data privacy online. Storing your most important data and information online by using a cloud service must be done with caution. You must decide if you really need to keep your private and confidential information in the cloud for easy access at all times.
The best advice that can be given when it comes to storing confidential data which is infrequently accessed is to store it locally rather than in the cloud. A removable hard drive or USB device, depending on the amount of data you need to keep safe should be used to back up the data.
The benefits of doing this are two-fold. Firstly, you can keep the backup device under lock and key until you need to access it, and secondly, it keeps the sensitive data offline and therefore unable to be compromised in case of loss or theft.
31. Encrypted cloud service
If you feel the use of cloud storage services is necessary for backing up your data, make sure it is a reputable service as a less reliable cloud service can be prone to hacking. Some cloud services can provide encryption and decryption of your files and data in addition to the standard storage and backup services. This means that the service will take care of the encrypting and decrypting of your data on your computer and in the cloud, adding an extra layer of online data protection.
32. Social networking
Social media has become a way of life but with it comes the risk of inadvertently sharing too much personal information on your profiles. This can be dangerous to the security of your online data and personal information.
Hackers prey on social media and based on the information you share, be it names, addresses or other personal details, hackers can use combinations of this information to correctly guess login information and passwords.
As a rule of thumb, never post information which you will be uncomfortable with strangers knowing.
33. Blocking on social media
Most of the social media apps have a feature in the privacy settings that you can use to block people. In some circumstances, unknown people may befriend you then proceed to ask personal questions or pressure you for information. This, of course, can be a major security risk and to prevent this unwanted attention and possible breach of confidential data a good course of action is to block the individual or individuals concerned.
34. Regular privacy checks
Social media apps and programs are always being tweaked and upgraded to improve the online experience, and as such the privacy options are constantly being updated as they improve.
Therefore it is a wise move to always check and adjust the in-app privacy settings and tailor them to your specific needs in order to safeguard yourself from unwanted hacking or compromised personal information.
In this day and age with almost total online connectivity at work, home or socially, we expose ourselves to the risk of having our personal information and data compromised by hackers and criminals on a daily basis. By being vigilant and careful in our approach to online security, we can reduce this risk to almost zero. There are many ways in which we can become more responsible in our daily routines to protect that which is important to us.
By adhering to some or all of the tips and tricks above, you can reduce the chance of your online data being compromised. Taking the time to correctly set up and maintain the security and protection of your online data and profiles will, in the long run, keep you and your important information safe and secure away from prying eyes.