How To Protect Your Personal Data

by Kevin Burton

   The battle for access to your personal information is being waged daily, as you go about your business. How is the battle going?

   “Just 12 percent of Americans and 9 percent of social media users report a ‘very high level of confidence’ that the government and tech companies can keep their personal information safe and secure, according to a Pew Research Center study from 2016,” reported Marissa Lang of the San Francisco Chronicle.

   Though it may be daunting to some, data security experts urge people to make the effort to secure their private information.  

   What follows is from an article on protection of privacy by Thorin Klosowski in the New York Times.  It goes beyond the obvious, such as using anti-virus software

and staying away from sketchy software.

   “By making a few simple changes to your devices and accounts, you can maintain security against outside parties’ unwanted attempts to access your data,” Klosowski writes.

Secure your accounts

Why: In the past decade, data breaches and password leaks have struck companies such as EquifaxFacebookHome DepotMarriottTargetYahoo, and countless others. If you have online accounts, hackers have likely leaked data from at least one of them.

How: Everyone should use a password manager to generate and remember different, complex passwords for every account. This is the most important thing people can do to protect their privacy and security. 

  “Wirecutter’s favorite password managers are LastPass and 1Password. Both can generate passwords, monitor accounts for security breaches, suggest changing weak passwords, and sync your passwords between your computer and phone.”

   “Password managers seem intimidating to set up, but once you’ve installed one you just need to browse the Internet as usual. As you log in to accounts, the password manager saves your passwords and suggests changing weak or duplicate passwords… Take this time to also change the default passwords for any devices in your house.”

Two-step authentication

   “Everyone should also use two-step authentication whenever possible for their online accounts. Most banks and major social networks provide this option.”

Why: Companies and websites track everything you do online. Every ad, social network button, and website collects information about your location, browsing habits, and more. The data collected reveals more about you than you might expect.

How: A browser extension like uBlock Origin blocks ads and the data they collect. The uBlock Origin extension also prevents malware from running in your browser and gives you an easy way to turn the ad blocking off when you want to support sites you know are secure. Combine uBlock with Privacy Badger, which blocks trackers, and ads won’t follow you around as much. To slow down stalker ads even more, disable interest-based ads from AppleFacebookGoogle, and Twitter.

   “A lot of websites offer means to opt out of data collection, but you need to do so manually. Simple Opt Out has direct links to opt-out instructions for major sites like Netflix, Reddit, and more. Doing this will significantly cut down the amount of data collected.”

   You should also install the HTTPS Everywhere extension. HTTPS Everywhere automatically directs you to the secure version of a site when the site supports that, making it difficult for an attacker — especially if you’re on public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, airport, or hotel — to digitally eavesdrop on what you’re doing.

Update software and devices

Why: Phone and computer operating systems, Web browsers, popular apps, and even smart-home devices receive frequent updates with new features and security improvements. These security updates are typically far better at thwarting hackers than antivirus software.

How: All three major operating systems can update automatically, but you should take a moment to double-check that you have automatic updates enabled for your OS of choice: WindowsmacOS, or Chrome OS. Although it’s frustrating to turn your computer on and have to wait out an update that might break the software you use, the security benefits are worth the trouble.

Lock down your phone in case you lose it

Why: You need to ensure nobody can get into your phone if you lose it or someone steals it. Smartphones are encrypted by default, which is great, but you still need to take a few steps to ensure your phone is properly locked down if it disappears. 

How: You have two main defenses here. The first is to use a strong passcode alongside your biometric (fingerprint or face) login. The second is to set up your phone’s remote-tracking feature. If you haven’t taken the first step, set up a PIN number or pattern, and enable the biometric login on your phone. You can find these options on an iPhone under Settings > Face ID & Passcode or Touch ID & Passcode, and on an Android phone under Settings > Security and location.

Next, set up your phone’s remote-tracking feature. If you lose your phone, you’ll be able to see where it is, and you can remotely delete everything on the phone if you can’t recover it.

The Importance of Paranoia

Ultimately, security and privacy are linked, so you need to get in the habit of protecting both. It might seem like a time-consuming, overwhelming headache, but once you follow these steps, all that’s left is to cultivate your judgment and establish good online behaviors.

   “Be suspicious of links in emails and on social media. Make your accounts private and don’t share anything you wouldn’t mind getting out anyway. Keep your main email address and phone number relatively private. Use a burner email account you don’t care about for shopping and other online activities; that way, if an account is hacked, it’s not linked to an important personal account, like that of your bank.”

   “Likewise, avoid using your real name and number when you have to sign up for a service you don’t care about, such as discount cards at a grocery store (your area code plus Jenny’s number usually gets you whatever club-card discount a retailer offers). Don’t link together services, like Facebook and Spotify, or Twitter and Instagram, unless you gain a useful feature from doing so.”

   “Don’t buy Internet of Things devices unless you’re willing to give up a little privacy for whatever convenience they provide.” 

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