Protecting Your Data

Jon Fesmire | May 15, 2020 @ 09:00 AM

The Information Age has made our lives better in many ways. It allows us to learn about anything from our phones and computers, makes it possible for us to use less paper, and keeps us connected to friends across the globe.

However, your private information is easier to steal than ever. The benefits of the Information Age outweigh the risk of one’s private information getting hacked, yet having private information stolen is still a problem.

One of the biggest issues is the risk of identity theft, which refers to when someone uses your identity for their own purposes. According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year.

There are steps you can take to keep your data as safe as possible. Here are the areas to focus on.

Passwords

Most sites you create an account on will encourage you to create a strong password, and they’ll have their own standards. They may require at least eight characters, one capital letter, one number, and perhaps one special character.

That’s a good start, but there are other ways to create a strong password. One trick is to think of a phrase. Turn it into an acronym and add a couple of meaningful numbers and punctuation. Something silly like, “I just ate a delicious burger, Joe,” might become the password, “Ij8adB,J!” That’s a password nobody will guess.

You can also use password manager apps. Programs like Dashlane and Keeper Password Manager work across multiple platforms and securely store your passwords. This allows you to create truly nonsensical combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters, and to create unique passwords for each account without fear of forgetting them.

On smartphones, you can go a step further. Use a strong password (this one you’ll have to remember) plus require fingerprint ID. This combination of password and biometrics will prevent anyone who might get ahold of your phone from unlocking the screen.

Files and Personal Information

Strong passwords go a long way in protecting your files on your computers, smartphones, tablets, and in the cloud. However, there are a couple of other things to check.

We’re not only in the Information Age, we’re in a Social Media age, which means you’ve probably put a lot of information about yourself online already where many people can see it. We encourage you to go over your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts. Make sure you’re really Okay with what you’re sharing there. What can the public see? What can your friends and their friends see? Protect things like your phone number, address, and anything else you don’t want just anyone to have.

Next, check your phone scroll. Do updates, new texts, and so on appear on your lock screen? If so, disable that right away. Otherwise, anyone who grabs your phone can check your various feeds and learn private information about you, even if they can’t get into your phone. You can find instructions for doing so on iOs and Android online.

Next, research the standard scams, and be skeptical of any email or phone call you get that seems odd or too good to be true. There are scammers who claim to be the IRS, who trick you into calling them to fix your computer, that offer a fortune if only you’ll send them money for a plane ticket, and many more. Don’t fall for them. In fact, for the phone end, consider getting the app RoboKiller, which catches known scam numbers before they get to you.

Credit Cards

Credit card theft is a big problem, and someone doesn’t have to take your physical card to perpetrate this crime.

There are many ways this can happen. One is when the thieves install their own card reader in a pump at a gas station. The unknowing driver will then pay with a bank or credit card, and while it will go through and they’ll get their cash, it will also save or send the data to the scammer, who can then use that card. Another is through a scanner that can grab your credit card information with the card in your pocket. The thief just has to get close enough to you to use it.

To avoid the gas scam problem, don’t pay at the pump. When you go to a gas station, pay inside. To avoid the hand scanners, consider getting an RFID-blocking wallet for all your cards. These block the scanners and protect your information.

Computers and Devices

Finally, we come to miscellaneous, but important ways to protect data on your devices.

Sometimes a big Windows or other update comes out and people complain about it not working on their computer. Try it anyway. Software updates, whether for full operating systems or apps, are meant not only to improve how the software functions, but to remove vulnerabilities. These are like holes through which hackers can access your devices, which can lead to identity theft or other loss of privacy and data.

If you access public, unsecured wifi, put a VPN on your device. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and the way it works is ingenious and does a couple of things. To the outside world, it masks your IP address with another, so your online activities can’t be traced back to you. Locally, it encrypts all data. So, if you’re at a cafe and on a VPN, no one will be able to read the data you’re sending or receiving via the web or your apps. Your passwords and more remain safe.

With these steps, your information will be safer than ever. It’s still important to be vigilant, but all this will certainly help.