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Keeping Information Safe in the Internet Age

– Contributed content –

Cyber-security graphic

(Flickr)

16 Mar. 2019. We have all heard all of the stories about people having their information stolen and used. From government data to HMRC in the UK. The data is powerful and dangerous in the wrong hands. Taking steps to protect your personal information will help reduce your risk of identity theft significantly.

There are a few ways that you can be vigilant. Firstly, you should keep a note of who you share your data with. Be thorough when deciding to share your private information. Store and dispose of your own sensitive information carefully. And, finally, consider your phone and computer like a vault – both are filled with a lot of information, so passwords and the fastest VPN are a minimum to keeping it safe.

Keeping your devices secure

Privacy policies

Most websites that you visit will have a privacy policy. In this policy, you can find out how they control, use and dispose of your information. With the new GDPR rules, many people have even more control over their data and also the adverts that they will see on certain websites.

Ideally, if you will be working with an individual or a company that doesn’t have a privacy policy, or it is too complicated and filled with jargon, you’ll look elsewhere.

WiFi wise

When you use the wifi in your local coffee shop, you essentially send over a whole load of information into a public space. Libraries, coffee shops, airports and hotels all tend to provide wifi to guests.

Many websites are now encrypted. But they only protect the information you send between you and that site. If you’re surfing, you might want to think about a virtual private network. A VPN basically keeps your data anonymous while you surf on public spaces.

Phishing

Phishing scams are pretty common now. But they aren’t always easy to tell apart from the real deal. In general, never open email attachments from someone you don’t know, or click links either.

Even if an email looks legitimate, if you aren’t sure, call the company for confirmation.

Laptop lockdown

Pretty much everyone is guilty of using the auto-login features on their laptops. However, if t were to be stolen, it won’t be as protected as you might think. A few things you can do is to add tracking software to the laptop. This way if it is stolen, while turned on, you stand a chance of getting it back, and they usually have a wipe function. Always log out or log off when you are done using the laptop. And if you don’t need to save financial information on there, just don’t.

Security software

There are many different companies that provide software that will look after your computer and laptop. You should look to install anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software too. As well as running weekly scans to make sure there is nothing nasty on your hardware.

Keep the software up to date when you are prompted to do so, and you shouldn’t have any problems with an attack from viruses or spyware.

Keeping your information secure offline

You will be surprised how often people are careless with their private and financial information. If someone were to break into your home or office, how much could they gather from you in a matter of minutes?

If you work in an open office, or you have housemates or roommates, it pays to be vigilant.

In the home, you should aim to keep all your essential financial information in a fireproof lockbox and keep the key somewhere separately. Where possible, you should use a secondary method of protection like a padlock with a code.

When you are out and about in the world are you guilty of carrying a little bit too much with you? Unless you need to take all of you ID, your credit and debit cards, driving license and social security information then leave it at home.

If you have a Medicare card, then rather than carry the real deal with you, make a copy and blank out some of the information – but leave the last four digits visible.

We are all guilty of talking a little bit too much sometimes, and you might be surprised just how much information you give away. You don’t need to share the location of your doctor’s office, where your children go to school, or even the flavour of the coffee that you had last week. Think about what you are saying and who you are saying it too.

If you have a pile of paper in your office, it might be time to get the shredder out. Many people keep bank statements, credit information, insurance information, receipts and other personal documentation together. That can be disastrous. Before you start throwing things out in bulk, shred it all.

Healthcare comes at a premium, and you won’t want to be landed with a fraudulent claim. Before giving any information out, or throwing away prescriptions, bottles think about what data can be gained from those things.

Keeping your information secure online

Scams are dressed up prettier than ever so you should consider factoring some of these steps into your life as soon as you can.

Password privacy

When it comes to passwords, many people are still using their birthdays or their children’s birthdays. That just won’t cut it – they’re the easiest to guess. And, many people use one password for all of their logins – from financial to emails. Try replacing some letters in your favorite words into numbers. Or, breaking a sentence down like this: I Wish I Had A Horse Called Tulip – IwIHAHC2Lip.

And when you finally have that password ready, don’t share it.

Social networking nasty

Pretty much everyone on the planet has a Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter. So it isn’t all that surprising when a person is stalked, or taken advantage of by using the information shared there.

Selfies with street names in, back to school photos with school badges in plain sight. Sitting on the bonnet of your new car, flashing the number plate. Big mistakes, but in the moment you might not even notice. Unless you know a person, don’t add them as friends, it doesn’t take much to work out the secret answer to the secret questions with the amount people share on a status.

Data encryption

A simple way to tell if your data is relatively safe on a website that you are using is the ‘lock’ image in the URL bar of any browser. If you are making a purchase online, and you don’t see the lock symbol you might want to hold off on that transaction until you find a reputable place instead.

Imposters

A common and a pretty hideous scam is calling and convincing the recipient that they are from a company that they usually have dealings with. They will then get to work getting information like name, address, social security number, and maybe even bank details. The last few years has seen this translate to emails.

If you get an email asking you to verify who you are, perhaps out of the blue, then don’t click the link or fill anything out. Usually, if a company need to communicate something with you, they will do so by postal mail first.

If you do get an email and need to read the information, instead of clicking the link, go directly to the website and login to access it that way.

Again, as above, if you aren’t sure then call the company in question.

Disposal of information

When you upgrade your electrical stuff, it is very simple to throw it in the bin and think nothing more of it. But, as above, there is a lot of information that can be extracted from a laptop or computer or even your mobile phone.

If you are selling or disposing of anything that has previously stored data, you should take steps to reset the device to factory settings. You should be able to find information in the manual or online about how to do this.

Before you do reset anything, make sure you don’t have any apps that are needed to log in to anything else. Verification applications etc.

Think before you act

Before you give information to anyone that you don’t know or a company that apparently needs you to verify yourself think about the following questions:

  • Why do they need that information
  • How will that information be used
  • How will they keep the info your provided safe
  • What the next steps are if you choose not to share that information with them

Sometimes in order to get a service, or complete a transaction, you’ll need to share specific information. It is at your discretion that you share this data and your responsibility to ensure they will take protective measures. Even if you take all of these precautions, you might find that you still fall victim to scammers. However, being vigilant will lower your risk considerably.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this post are the contributor’s and not those of Science & Enterprise.

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