8 Ways to Protect Your Digital Privacy
Today most of us do our banking online, pay our bills electronically, and send emails that may contain personal details. It's no wonder digital privacy is now an everyday consideration. You're probably familiar with the usual advice, such as create strong passwords and don't share your Social Security number online. But as online threats expand, it's important to take your precautions a step further and become more diligent about creating digital boundaries.
1. Be Cautious While on Public Wi-Fi
Connecting to the Wi-Fi network at your favorite coffee shop or at the airport is a convenient way to save yourself from costly data overages. For devices like laptops that don't have 3G or 4G service built in, connecting to public Wi-Fi networks is one of the few ways to get online outside your home. There's nothing wrong with using public Wi-Fi — just be smart about it:
- Ask the owner of the Wi-Fi network, or someone who works at the establishment, for the Wi-Fi network name. A smart hacker can easily set up a Wi-Fi network with a legitimate-looking name like "attwifi Starbucks" to trick you into joining. Make sure the network you're about to join is the real deal before clicking the "connect" button.
- If the network is not secured by a password, be cautious about what sites you visit. For example, logging into your bank account on an unsecured network is a bad idea.
- Turn off file sharing and network discovery on your laptop to prevent others from seeing your machine on the network.
- Turn off Wi-Fi when you're not using it.
2. Make Passwords Longer
You're probably already creating passwords including a mixture of capital letters, numbers, and symbols to better protect your privacy. But these days, that's not always enough to stop cyber attackers from intruding. Automated software now exists that can guess an eight-digit password in less than 24 hours. To better protect your personal information on the websites you log into, create passwords that are at least 10 characters long. Some experts recommend creating passwords that are closer to 30 characters long for accounts with really sensitive information, such as email and banking.
3. Use a Password Manager
Never use the same password twice. This is one of the most common pieces of advice from data security experts, but in practice, this is tough advice to follow. After all, we can't be expected to remember different passwords for every single website on which we have an account! Password management software like LastPass solves this problem in a couple of ways. First, it stores all of your passwords safely and securely. You just have to remember one password — the one to your password manager. And secondly, it will automatically create secure passwords for any new account you create. Your Internet Service Provider may also offer a password manager, so ask about that.
4. Use Two-step Authentication
Two-step authentication (or two-step login) is when you enter a one-time code in addition to your password to access your account. This code can usually be retrieved via text message or a virtual token. It might seem annoying, but this will keep your information safer from malicious individuals online. At the very least, enable two-step authentication on important personal accounts such as email and online banking.
5. Check for HTTPS
HTTPS connections encrypt your data as it travels to and from the website you're visiting. To find out if the website you're using is HTTPS-enabled, look for the green lock symbol in your browser address bar. It's important to make sure that HTTPS is enabled for any website that requests and/or retains your personal data. Banking websites, credit card websites, and email are examples of these types of websites.
6. Password-protect Your Devices
Turn on password security for your desktop, laptop, tablet, or any other internet-connected mobile device. Then you can rest assured that if your device is ever lost or stolen, your information is secure.
7. Back Up Your Data
If a cyber intruder ever compromised your computer's operating system, they may be able to corrupt or wipe out your personal data. Regularly back up your valuable digital files and important data to an external drive or cloud storage account to maintain access to them if anything happens to your computer.
8. Cover Your Webcam
A clever hacker can access the webcam on your computer to view you. Fortunately, this is an easy breach to protect yourself from. When your webcam is not in use, simply put a sticker, sticky note, or piece of masking tape over the lens. Sound crazy? It's not. Technology guru and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg covers his webcams this way.
QUICK TIP: Put stickers on your laptop in case it gets confiscated when you travel. This will make it difficult for someone to give you back a different laptop infested with malware.