From stealing credit card numbers to reading your social media updates to breaking into your devices, there are countless ways that scammers can take your data or your personal information. Fortunately, you can stay one step ahead by keeping your identity and data private. Learn how to protect your data and identity with nine simple steps.
Encrypt Your Data
If you have a laptop or a desktop computer, chances are you have everything from Social Security numbers and tax returns to bank account and credit card numbers stored on your machine. Keeping this sensitive data private is critical, and one of the easiest ways to protect your data is to encrypt it.
If your computer is just a few years old, it probably already has encryption software installed, but you may need to activate it or update the settings for maximum security. If your machine is older, install an app like AxCrypt or Veracrypt to keep your data under lock and key.
Back Up Your Data Securely
No matter how old your computer, tablet, or smart device is, you can’t predict when it will break down or refuse to turn on again. That’s why it’s important to back up your data to ensure that you don’t lose anything, but it’s even more critical to ensure that you’re doing so securely.
If you opt to back up your data on an external hard drive or thumb drive, do so on a regular basis and ensure that the drive is also encrypted. If you opt to save your data to the cloud, use a reliable secure service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive.
Install Security Updates
You’ve probably read nightmarish stories about hackers gaining access to peoples’ computers and stealing their sensitive data. What you might not realize, however, is that simply keeping your computer updated can prevent hackers from using some of the most common entry points to your machine.
Whether you use a Mac or a Windows computer or device, security and performance updates will be available on a regular basis. Turn on automatic updates for your machine to make sure you never miss one. Alternately, make a point of checking for security updates on a weekly basis.
Lock Your Devices
No matter what type of device you have, there’s always a chance that someone will steal it or you’ll misplace it. Either way, if your device falls into someone else’s hands, you won’t want anyone to gain access to your personal information.
You can easily add a layer of security to your device by locking it. Add a password to your laptop or desktop computer, or add a numeric code or pattern to your smart device. Some of the newest devices even allow you to use a fingerprint or retina scan for extra security. Choose the strongest option that’s available for your device to keep it as secure as possible.
Use Strong Passwords
From online shopping and banking to email and social media platforms, countless websites require logins. Though individual websites have a variety of different security requirements, you should always strive to make your passwords as secure as you can. Avoid using passwords that include words in the dictionary, and use a combination of numbers, symbols, and capital and lowercase letters. To create a strong password that will protect your data, use at least 12 characters, and never use the same password for multiple websites.
Never write down your passwords or save them in an unencrypted document, since hackers can easily find this information. Instead, use an app like 1Password or LastPass to manage and store your passwords.
Log Into Secure Networks
Whether you only log into your home Wi-Fi network or you’re constantly using coffee shop and restaurant Wi-Fi, you should always make sure your network of choice is secure. As a general rule, you should avoid networks that don’t require a password and favor hidden networks instead. Remember that the information you share online is only as secure as the network you use.
Double-Check Your Apps
Apps and games can offer tons of convenience and enjoyment, but it’s important to remember that not all apps are created equal. Some are made by inexperienced app developers and can open the door for hackers to steal your information. Before downloading your next app, double-check to make sure it’s from a reliable developer and that other users haven’t experienced security issues from the app.
Take Advantage of Privacy Settings for Apps
Once you’ve downloaded an app, keep in mind that many allow you to configure your own privacy settings. Always opt to make the privacy settings as strict as possible, especially for apps that encourage you to share personal information about yourself.
For instance, keeping your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter account public could allow virtually anyone to do a people search and browse your profile, look at your pictures, and learn about where you work and live. Since hackers can guess weak passwords just by knowing information like your kids’ birthdays and your pets’ names, you’ll want to keep this information away from prying eyes.
Monitor Your Credit Report
Even when you’re careful, information can still fall into the hands of thieves. If someone does steal your Social Security or credit card number, you’ll want to know about it as early as possible so you can take action to protect your assets.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act of 2003 allows consumers to obtain a free credit report from the various credit bureaus each year. You can also purchase additional reports for a reasonable fee, and you can use these to spot new accounts or suspicious activity. To get monthly or even immediate alerts about strange activity on your credit report, sign up for a monitoring service like Identity Guard or LifeLock.
Whether you live in a digital world or you try to keep your online information to a minimum, it’s essential to protect your data and monitor your identity. Follow these steps to keep your personal information under wraps and be vigilant in checking for and responding to data breaches.