Learning how to protect your data from identity theft and data loss is paramount. Especially today, where most data is digitally stored.
From firsthand experience, I’ve had my identity stolen, and I’ve lost LARGE amounts of data. It’s nightmarish. For this reason, use my 35 easy-to-follow data protection methods.
1. Encrypt data
Sounds 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. This encrypted unreadable data format is typically called “ciphertext”.
2. Back up 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 in safe places.
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’ve owned and operated without 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. Backup nonsensitive data to the cloud
Back up your data in cloud storage. It’s highly 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 any place 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 often upload files to the cloud, like family pictures. Your drive then becomes your secondary backup.
To point out, many companies offer basic free cloud storage. Then if you need added storage space, you pay a small monthly fee.
4. Protect against Malware
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. Then next thing you know, your computer will quit working.
So, avoid Malware by using the following anti-virus protection programs I recommend:
- Microsoft Common Sense
Finally, make smart judgment calls. If a downloadable file, photo, or video looks suspicious, simply don’t open it!
5. Keep operating system up to date
Always keep your operating system up to date. Because software updates usually include vital security patches. These patches can protect your computer against new malware.
If it’s easier, simply set your computer for auto-updates. Or at the very least, set up auto-notifications for system updates.
6. Update software and apps
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. Also, makes it difficult for others to access your data without your permission.
Oftentimes, routers come with a default wifi password, which you should change. Just as important, 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. Especially, a computer placed inside of a hot room.
So, after you complete your computer work, power it off. Unless you have proper computer fans installed and space for the hardware to breath.
9. Setup a firewall
Firewalls help block dangerous attacks against your computer. Think of viruses and spyware. As an analogy, imagine a firewall are the walls of a castle. The walls only allow good people through the castle gate, 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 typically a software firewall running on specialized hardware. 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 from your computer, creating an outside layer of protection.
10. Consider using 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.
You can choose a favorite movie quote, book author, or song lyric as your passphrase. Anything unique to you. The passphrase can also include spaces too. For example, “this will be my new password for 30 days!”
Even more, you can 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 devices when left unattended. Or even worse, if someone steals one of your devices.
Because it sucks if you lose your phone, but at least your data will probably stay safe.
12. Don’t keep passwords easily accessible
It’s very tempting to store your passwords on your device notepad. But, don’t do this. Because you don’t want someone logging into 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 expose yourself to unwanted network users.
Instead, use safe sites to share files. Also, don’t endlessly leave your network open.
For new devices though, quickly turn your SSID broadcast on so your device finds the network. But once your device connects, hide the network again.
14. Encrypt USB drives and SIM cards
Do you carry important data on a USB drive for easy access? If yes, encrypt your USB drive data to make accessing your data difficult. The same applies to your phone’s SIM card.
Also of course, if you list your old phone for sale, remove your SIM card!
15. Forever delete files
If you’re disposing an old hard drive, get yourself a hammer. Because simply deleting files from your hard drive alone won’t be enough. The files may still be recoverable by hackers.
Several full hammer swings will certainly get the job done though.
16. Delete files from cloud storage
Backing up your non-sensitive data to cloud storage is a great backup method. But, if you delete data from your local devices, you’ll still have a copy sitting on cloud storage servers.
So, always remember to delete unwanted data in both places to not have unwanted copies around.
17. Update app privacy settings
Apps today all have privacy settings you can toggle. So, review the privacy settings of your apps. Determine what level of information you want stored and shared 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.
Rather, keep your online activity to web browsing only. Also, avoid sites where you enter your username and password. Instead, use an encrypted password-protected Wi-Fi network to send personal sensitive data.
20. Always sign out
When you access your personal accounts online, don’t just minimize or close the web page. Instead, log out, especially if you’re using public wi-fi.
21. Never open emails from unknown senders
Keep an eye out, particularly emails with .exe extension attachments. These attachments most often contain malicious software.
If you’re ever unsure about an email, just delete it. Better safe than sorry.
22. Setup 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.
With 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.
For your phone, use a two-step authentication app.
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 to protect your transmitted data. SSL are protocols for setting up secure links between networked computers.
Websites beginning with HTTPS:// are SSL secure. You may also find a padlock symbol on the far left of your address bar.
24. Be watchful of links in emails
Don’t click on suspicious-looking links. For example, you may receive emails looking to be from your bank. You then think you’re linking to Wells Fargo, but in fact, you’re directed to www.awellsfargo.com.
So always check the source of your incoming emails and links. You don’t want to accidentally give your bank routing and account number to hackers.
25. Avoid downloading files from unknown websites
Some websites use peer-to-peer file sharing to allow you to download files. These illegal sites are rife with malware and other malicious software.
If you don’t trust a website, don’t download their files. I suggest Google searching websites or researching them on Reddit. This will help you verify the legitimacy of a site. Because more times than not, if you uncover nothing on a website, stay away.
26. Avoid saving logins in your browser
I know, it’s very convenient when a browser saves your website login info. But, this is a dangerous practice. If someone gains access to your device, they can easily access all your secure accounts.
27. Check ad tracking
Companies like Google and Facebook make most of their money from online ads. Naturally then, they track your online activity to give you 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. Update 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. Your videos are then viewable only to select audiences.
Go to the setting menu of websites you frequently visit, to edit the privacy options. Even more, learn how your favorite websites handle your data.
29. Don’t send sensitive information over unsecured networks
Never send passwords, passphrases, or account info over an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. You may risk broadcasting your information to hackers in your wireless signal range.
30. Store sensitive data locally
No company can guarantee the security of your data. No matter what they promise you.
So, vet every online service you use carefully. Even then, I recommend using an external hard drive or USB device for storing sensitive data.
31. Use encrypted cloud services
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. Be safe on social networks
Almost everyone has a social media account of some type these days. The problem is though, you can inadvertently share too much personal information. I’ve seen people carelessly share their phone numbers, home addresses, and much more.
This is why social media is now ground zero for many hackers. Hackers can use your social media information to guess your login on other websites.
In short, NEVER publicly post information you don’t want strangers to know.
33. Block social media users
Most social media apps allow you to block people. So don’t feel bad about blocking a creep. You don’t need to be friends with everybody.
You never know who is on the opposing side of a profile, reading your personal information.
34. Monitor website privacy settings
Many apps constantly update to improve your online experience. In return, their privacy settings constantly update too.
So, always check and adjust your in-app privacy settings. Tailor them to your specific needs to safeguard your data.
35. Use a device 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. This applies to your home and workplace devices. I’d go as far as to say these are impactful first engineering job advice tips.
And I know these tips may make your life slightly 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 into 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.