With most data stored digitally today, you need to know how to protect your data. The last thing you want is identity theft or loss of data.
I’m going to cover 35 easy-to-follow data protection methods you should use. Because I’ve had my identity stolen, and I’ve lost LARGE amounts of data. The experiences were nightmarish.
Even more, if you work with any digital data as an engineer, these tips are even more important to follow. This applies to all types of engineers.
1. Encrypt your data
Encrypting your data may sound difficult. But, plenty of free apps and tools exist making it easy. I use Cryptomator myself. It’s a great free open-source tool.
The software scrambles your data making it almost impossible for anyone to read. This protects data stored on your computer, and any data you send over the internet. And this encrypted unreadable format is typically called “ciphertext”.
2. Back up your data on an external drive
Create duplicate copies of your data in case you lose a device, or if a device fails. I always back up my data on separate hard drives. Then, I store the hard drives somewhere safe.
I’ve used hard drives from most major manufacturers, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Usually, the best choice comes down to price. The following are some of the drives I own and I haven’t had issues with:
- 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. Backup your nonsensitive data to the cloud
Back up your data in cloud storage. It’s very unlikely one of the big cloud service providers like Google or Amazon will lose your data. Plus, it’s just super convenient. You can instantly access your data from anywhere on any device.
I only store my nonsensitive data on cloud storage though. A hack in the cloud system could lead a criminal to all your information.
Also, it’s good practice to transfer your cloud data to an external hard drive from time to time. Especially if you upload a lot of files to the cloud often, like family pictures. Your drive then becomes your secondary backup.
To point out, many companies offer basic cloud service storage for free. Then, if you need more storage space, you can pay a small monthly fee.
4. Malware protection
Malicious software or malware poses a huge threat to your computer. The Malware threats include spyware, viruses, worms, and Trojan horses to name a few. And like a human virus, malware will silently infiltrate your computer without you even knowing. Then next thing you know, your computer no longer works.
So, avoid Malware by using the following anti-virus protection programs I recommend:
- Microsoft Common Sense
Then overall, make good judgment calls. If a downloadable file, photo, or video looks suspicious, don’t open it!
5. Keep your operating system up to date
No matter your operating system, keep it updated. Because software updates usually include vital security patches. And these patches can address weaknesses in your computer from recently discovered malware.
And if it’s easier for you, set your computer for auto-updates. Or at the very least, set up notifications for when it’s time to make system updates.
6. Automatic software updates
Update your apps for the same reason we discussed in tip #6. This includes updating any third-party malware, anti-virus, and spyware prevention and detection programs.
7. Secure your home wireless network
Protect your wireless network by using a strong password. This prevents unauthorized access to your home network. So, people can’t access your private data without your permission.
Oftentimes, routers come with a default wifi password 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. Because you can overheat your computer and lose all your data. Think of a hot room or a computer with weak fans.
So, after you’ve finished your computer work, power off your computer. Unless you know your computer won’t overheat given its conditions.
Firewalls help block dangerous attacks against your computer. Think of viruses and spyware. As an analogy, imagine a firewall is the walls of a castle. The walls only let good things through the castle doors, to protect the people inside.
Now, there are software-based and hardware-based firewalls. Both have their place in protecting your data. But, hardware-based firewalls provide greater security.
A hardware firewall is usually a software firewall running on specialized hardware. So, the hardware firewall physically separates your computer from the internet. For example, think of a firewall in a network router. The router is a separate piece of equipment from your computer. So, it creates an added outside layer of protection.
10. Consider a passphrase
You may have heard of a passphrase before, and no, it’s not a password. A passphrase is a string of words used to gain access to a computer or service.
So, you can choose a favorite movie quote, book, or song lyric as your passphrase. Anything unique to you. And, the passphrase can also include spaces. For example, “this will be my new password for 30 days!”
You can even use the first letter of a series of words in your passphrase. Then, combine the letters with a combination of numbers and or special characters. The point is, to make access to your devices difficult for malicious code and hackers.
11. Automatically lock devices
Lock your devices, even your home computer. I suggest setting up your devices for auto-lock after a short delay of non-use. This way, nearby strangers can’t access your device if it’s left unattended. Or even worse, if someone steals your device.
So yes, it sucks if you lose your phone, but at least your data will more than likely stay safe.
12. Don’t keep passwords easily accessible on your devices
It’s very tempting to store your passwords on your device notepad. But, don’t do this. Because you don’t want someone logging in to all your accounts on top of having your phone stolen.
13. Turn off media and file sharing
Sometimes you may want to connect many devices to your home wireless network to share files. Or, you use peer-to-peer file-sharing networks to download files. When you do this though, you’re exposing yourself to other network users.
So, use safe sites to share files, and don’t constantly leave your network open. And for a new device, quickly turn on your SSID broadcast so your new device sees the network. Then, once your device connects to the network, make the network hidden again.
By hiding your network, you 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, encrypt your USB drive data to make accessing your data more difficult. The same applies to your phone’s SIM card.
And of course, if you list your old phone for sale, remove your SIM card.
15. Overwriting deleted files
If you’re getting rid of an old hard drive, you’ll need your hammer. Because deleting files from your hard drive alone won’t clear the memory. The files may still be recoverable by hackers. But, several full hammer swings will certainly get the job done.
16. Delete your old files from the cloud storage
Backing up your nonsensitive data to cloud storage is a great backup method. But, if you decide to delete your data from your local devices, you’ll still have a copy on your cloud storage servers.
So, always remember to delete your unwanted data in both places to avoid unwanted copies floating around.
17. App privacy settings
Apps today have privacy settings you can toggle. So, review the privacy settings of your apps. Determine what level of information you want to store and share online. I always select the option with the least amount of data sharing.
18. Lock your devices
No matter your device, lock it with a password or passphrase. If your device gets lost or stolen, this will make accessing it more difficult.
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 any personal information.
Rather, keep your online activity to web browsing only. Also, avoid sites where you need to enter your username and password. Instead, use an encrypted password-protected Wi-Fi network to send sensitive data.
20. Always sign out
When you access your personal accounts online, don’t merely minimize or close the web page. Always log out of the application, especially if you use public wi-fi.
21. Never open emails from unknown senders
We all receive emails from unknown senders from time to time. Watch out for these emails, particularly ones with .exe extension attachments. These attachments most often contain malicious software.
So if you’re unsure about the origin of an email, just delete it right away. Thankfully though, today, 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 protection. You’ll stay protected if a hacker manages to guess your password.
In this second security layer, you can add a question-answer or specific pin. Some of the more prominent websites will either email or send you a text to verify your identity. And for your phone, you can use the many two-step authentication apps available.
23. Use secure websites
Be smart with the websites you visit. Especially, if you’re making financial transactions online, or sharing sensitive data.
Look for SSL (Secure Socket Layers) on websites. SSL are protocols for setting up secure links between networked computers. In other words, it adds protection to online transmitted data.
Websites beginning 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-looking links. For example, you may receive emails looking to be from your bank. You may think you’re linking to Wells Fargo, but in fact, you’re taken to www.awellsfargo.com.
You don’t want to accidentally give your bank routing and account number to hackers. So always check the source of your incoming emails and links.
25. Avoid downloading from unknown websites
Some websites use peer-to-peer file sharing allowing you to download any number of files. These illegal sites are rife with malware and other malicious software.
So if you don’t trust a website, don’t download files from them. I suggest Google searching websites or researching them on Reddit. This will help you verify the legitimacy of a site. And more times than not, if you find nothing on a website, stay away.
26. Saving account logins in your browser
I know, it’s very convenient when a browser saves your login info for websites. But, this is a dangerous practice. If someone gains access to your device, they can easily access all your secure accounts.
27. Ad tracking
Companies like Google and Facebook make most of their money from online ads. So, naturally, these companies track a lot of your online activity. This is how you receive all the tailored ads.
So limit the information these sites collect from you by opting out of ad tracking on your devices. This will keep your personal data more private.
28. Website privacy settings
Some websites offer privacy options to protect your online privacy. For example, with the more notable streaming services, you can upload private videos. In other words, your videos are viewable only to select audiences.
So, navigate to the setting menu of a website and edit your privacy options. Even more, learn about certain websites and how they respect your data.
29. Don’t send sensitive information over unsecured networks
Never send passwords, passphrases, or account info over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Because you may risk broadcasting your information to hackers. Hackers who are in the range of the wireless signal can intercept your information.
30. Store sensitive data locally
No company can guarantee the security of your data. It doesn’t matter what promises they make to you.
So, you need to decide for yourself if you want to use a certain service or not. For example, using a certain cloud storage service to backup your data.
For sensitive data, I recommend using a removable hard drive or USB device as your backup. You can even use several of them for redundancy. And the benefits are two-fold. First, you can keep the backup device hidden until you need it. Secondly, your sensitive data remains offline.
31. Encrypted cloud service
Use a reputable cloud storage service if you decide to store sensitive data on the cloud. Higher-end cloud services will provide both encryption and decryption of your data. This is an added layer of protection on top of the standard storage and backup services.
32. Social networking
Everyone has a social media account of some type these days. The problem is, you can inadvertently share too much personal information. I’ve seen many people carelessly share their phone numbers, home addresses, and much more.
This makes social media ground zero for many hackers. Hackers use your social media information to guess your login on other websites. So, never publicly post information you don’t want strangers to know.
33. Blocking certain social media users
Most social media apps allow you to block people. So block people and don’t feel bad about it. You don’t need to be friends with everybody.
Because random strangers may ask you personal questions and pressure you for information. Also, they can view your personal profile information.
34. Regular privacy checks
Many apps offer constant updates to improve your online experience. As a result, their privacy options constantly update too.
So, always check and adjust your in-app privacy settings. Tailor them to your specific needs to safeguard your data.
35. Tracking app
Use a tracking app to track your phone’s location. Because if you lose your device, you can track its whereabouts using the app. Also in the case of theft, you can remotely wipe data from your device.
Final thoughts on how to protect your data
Be smart with how you approach your online security and data storage.
The tips we discussed may make your life slightly more inconvenient. But, they’ll save you big headaches down the road.
What methods do you use to protect your online data? How worried are you with everything moving to the digital world?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 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 15 years 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, our history and future, sports, and fitness.