In an increasingly digital world, it can be difficult to keep personal information, well, personal. At least, it is growing harder to keep your data out of the hands of ill-intentioned individuals who want to access it. That doesn't mean it is impossible to keep your information safe online. Knowing how requires five basic steps. Once you have mastered them, you will be better prepared to maintain a secure online environment for your personal data.
Identify Your Most Valuable Online Assets
Some information is much more valuable than the rest. This is the data that you should focus on when trying to create a secure environment. So, whether the information you are trying to protect is personal or business-related, you want to know exactly what type of data others would have the most interest in obtaining. Chances are it is financial account numbers, identifying information like a social security number or passwords that you use frequently. Other times it can be personally-identifying information like previous addresses and historical data that would be used to establish an identity for password or account recovery options.
Store and Dispose of Personal Information Securely
Anything that is stored on your devices or in the cloud can potentially be accessed by someone without permission. It is imperative that you take steps to secure that data so it is not compromised. Setting up multi-factor authentication gives an added layer of protection since it requires an added piece of information to access the data. Any data that is stored on hard drives or digital media should be erased before the item is disposed of. Reformatting or resetting a device does not fully erase the old data, but rather buries it in a back corner where someone with the right know-how can get to it. That means you will need to fully erase hard drives and physically destroy disks or CDs.
Know Who You Share Information With
It is very easy to just click the OK button on a website when it asks for permission to access and share your data. Resist the temptation to do that, though. Instead, evaluate the settings and adjust them to a level you are comfortable with. Also, look into who else the site will share your data with. The more it is shared, the more likely it is to be compromised somewhere along the line.
This goes for other interactions, too. If you get an email asking for personal or identifying information, don't assume it is legitimate. Check for any red flags that might indicate a phishing scam before you click an email link. If there is any doubt, type the website address into your browser and check accounts independently. This can help you minimize the chance of clicking a bad link and accidentally sharing personal data with a scammer.
Maintain Security on Your Devices
Any devices that you currently use should have an active security subscription. Look for products that protect against viruses, malware, and spyware. They should also have the option of scanning files for potential problems and automatically backing up your data in a secure environment. Some internet security packages also offer the option of scanning websites for suspicious activity, which is good for people who do a lot of new browsing. Using a VPN for any public wifi connections is definitely worth the investment in getting it set up.
Establish a Data Recovery Plan
No matter how careful you are, there will always be a hacker or scammer that is a step ahead. In the event that your data is breached, you should have a recovery plan to minimize any damage. Secure backups make this process easier. You will also want to evaluate what went wrong in your security processes and correct the deficiencies so it doesn't happen again.
By identifying what data is most vulnerable to attack and then taking proactive steps to secure it, you can greatly increase your online security. It also helps to have a recovery plan in place that includes identifying what went wrong and restoring backed up data.