Data Privacy Day falls on Tuesday, January 28th, and it marks a neat opportunity to consider your own digital safety. After all, this is a day created to raise awareness of data security online, and used to promote best practice for privacy.
While it may not quite have the cache of Presidents Day or Independence Day, it is a good opportunity to take stock of the information we share online; check our passwords, and ensure that we're reducing the risks to our data in our day-to-day digital life.
We've collected some useful advice below that will help you become more data-savvy, and help you stay that way.
Update Your Passwords
In many cases, a password is your only barrier between a hacker and a wealth of your personal data. Should this defence fail, your details could quickly fall into the wrong hands. That data could be your bank details, personal photos or private emails.
Best practice when creating passwords is not to use the same one across multiple sites. The reason is obvious – if someone gets hold of your password for one site, others could also be vulnerable. So why do we do it? Well, according to research, the average email address is associated with 130 accounts. That's a lot of passwords to remember – so it's little wonder so many of us end up repeating the same one over and over.
If you want to know how secure your password is, check out our how secure is my password guide – this tells you the good, and bad, ways of going about creating a password. It's also worth checking Have I Been Pwned? This site will tell you if your password has been compromised and is currently floating out there in the internet ether. Enter your email address and the site will show if it has ever been compromised in the past. If it has, change your passwords as soon as possible.
So far, we've told you how to ensure that your password is secure. But, you're still likely left juggling dozens of different logins that could easily be forgotten. We'd recommended use of a password manager for peace of mind and to stop your inbox being inundated with “Password Reset” emails. Password managers will automatically remember your login details for the sites you visit, allowing you to login with the click of a button. They'll even generate secure passwords for you, and some even let you know if your password is ever compromised.
In particular, data loss can be a huge risk for businesses, for whom it can lead to both both financial harm and loss of reputation. We recommend checking our guide to the Best Enterprise Password Managers for Business – these tools can be a fantastic way of securing logins across a workforce, and ensuring password best practice.
Our top choice password manager is 1Password, a simple, user-friendly tool that can make your online logins a whole lot more secure. Learn more, below:
- 30 day free trial
- Local storage makes saving changed passwords more reliable
- Large number of secure note templates for storing sensitive information
- Very well-designed app
- No automated password changing feature
- Desktop app seems superfluous
- No camera integration on mobile
Hide Your Identity Online
Nobody likes being watched surreptitiously. But, when you're online, there is ample opportunity to be observed and tracked. We're not even talking about nefarious hackers out for your bank details or passwords – most sites you visit will be collecting some form of information from you, and search engines certainly are. All this data is typically collected, repackaged, and sold to companies who can then target you for adverts.
If you'd rather companies didn't snoop on you, then there are a few options open to you. Consider using Incognito or private mode in your browser of choice, to ensure that your information isn't being collected. Be aware, though, that this only works if you're not logged into any services. The moment you sign in (for example, to a social media account), it's open season on your data again.
Then there are WiFi snoopers and even your own internet service provider, and Incognito mode isn't going to slow them down. If you really want to fly under the radar and keep your online life safe, then a VPN could be a great tool. Offered on a subscription basis, VPNs bypass your internet provider's server and connect to one of numerous private ones worldwide, instead. This means that your activity can't be traced back to your IP address, and also enables you to pretend you're accessing a site from a different country to the one you are in. As well as a useful tool at home, a VPN also means you can use public WiFi without the usual security concerns.
VPNs start from a few dollars a month, and come with a host of great features. Just want to know which is best? From our independent testing, we found that PureVPN is hard to beat:
- Effective privacy and security features
- Smart Mode-based approach
- Clear notifications
- Excellent value
- Not quite as fast as billed
- Doesn’t unblock Netflix unless you use the browser extension
Dodge Virus and Hacking Attempts
One of the greatest risks when online is illegal hacking and having your personal data stolen. Despite the image, not all data theft is as impressive as the image of the hooded ne'er-do-well, surrounded by displays with Matrix-style green vertical text, feverishly looking for a ‘back-door' into our systems. In fact, a lot of the standard hacks that we fall for are spectacularly mundane and rely on tricking users to volunteer their information rather than actively taking it from them.
One such example is phishing, where the recipient is sent a message from a trusted company, and asked to fill in their details. Real examples are fake Apple invoices and bank statements, made to look as real as the genuine item. Usually sent by email or text message, these communications will ask the customer to log in or submit other personal details, after which this information is used to access the real account by the hackers.
More advanced examples of hacks include ransomware attacks. In these cases, the user has their computer infected with software that locks up the machine, and refuses to relinquish control under a payment has been made. The scope of ransomware is so large that it doesn't just affect individuals. Local governments spent millions last year on ransom payments as as result of such attacks.
So, how can you avoid viruses and hacking attempts? There are a few ways.
- Keep your software and operating system up to date – A lot of hackers take advantage of exploits in software, which are usually patched fairly quickly by companies once discovered. That's part of the reason you keep getting all those software update requests – they're trying to protect you. So don't ignore them.
- Use anti-virus software – Whether it's a third party solution of your operating system's built-in solution, make sure it's enabled and operating, to catch any suspect files that might be trying to infiltrate your computer.
- Double-check emails – Phishing scams rely on a lack of vigilance. Make sure that emails asking you for personal information are from legitimate sources. Check the email address, check the language. If you're not sure, log into your account via a browser, rather than through the links in the message.
- Stick to official apps – Don't be tempted to download apps from outside the official app store for your device. They could be harboring malicious software.
Check Your Profiles
Online services hold a lot of information about you. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, or Deliveroo, there's enough data out there to effectively piece a digital version of yourself together. Some of this information is necessary, depending on the services you're signed up for, but a lot of its is simply feeding the huge gaping maw of tech companies, greedy for whatever data they can suck up.
So, our advice is to check your permissions and profiles on the sites you use. Take 10 minutes to look at what information they're gathering about you, and decide if you're comfortable with. Also check how they use this data (for the most part, to bombard you with targeted adverts).
If you want to know everything that a company knows about you, just ask them. Companies such as Facebook will hand over everything in a stockpile of data, and the results could well surprise you. From your favourite band to where you buy your underwear, there's no limit as to the information you've already given away. Use Data Privacy Day to reassess these permissions and tighten up what you share online.
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