Blog & News
How to Protect Your Personal Data in the Digital Age
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Exponential growth. It’s something investments and technology have in common. The only difference is that technology is constantly evolving with its bits, bytes, ones, zeroes, and tons of silicon. Advancing technology is becoming a more integral part of modern life as well, helping us plan our days, storing our most precious data, and tracking our sleep. While these helpful features can make our lives easier, they can also cause significant problems. The most recent global cybersecurity scare is just one relevant and recent example. Hundreds of thousands of users were unfortunately affected, and some are still being attacked as the WannaCry ransomware continues to infect systems across the globe.
The attackers aren’t out to get your personal data. They’re looking to get money by locking user files, then demanding payment to release the data. The worm is (and eventually will be) contained, but there are some simple steps that could have been taken by those affected to prevent such a terrible attack.
In a time when the Internet is more relevant than ever, I’m hoping to use the power of the Internet to give you the means of defending yourself. With these tools, you’ll be able to fight against cyber-attacks, phishing, ransomware, viruses, malware, and everything in between. So how can you keep your information secure?
Use Strong Passwords
Passwords. You use them almost every day of your life. Although the concept is simple, using a combination of letters and numbers to secure your accounts, weak passwords can allow nefarious users to access your most personal data. It’s important to use strong passwords in order to keep all of your sensitive information secure. Example: Use “$AppLe^890!,” instead of “apple890.” An ideal password will have at least 10-15 characters with numbers, symbols, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. If you have an insurmountable number of passwords, you may want to consider using a password manager to house all of your passwords rather than a file on your PC, which is a huge security risk. These services usually come with a small fee, but can create complex passwords for you and store them in an encrypted database. Some will even cycle your passwords regularly for extra security.
Be Wary of Unsecured Websites and Public WiFi
When visiting a website, be sure the website is utilizing an SSL certificate. This ensures that the website you’re visiting is using at least 128-bit encryption services, which will make it extremely difficult (if not impossible) for anyone to access your information if that website ever has some kind of breach or leak. The easiest way to determine if the website you’re on is secure or not is to check to the left of your address bar for a “green button.” It should also be noted that you should take precautionary measures when connecting to public WiFi. It's recommended that you only connect to secured WiFi networks that are password protected.
Keep a Backup
Keeping a backup is becoming more standardized, and for good reason. You work so hard to keep your documents and pictures organized, updating albums of the kids and grandkids, then one day you lose all of your data to a bad hard drive. The sooner you develop the habit of keeping a backup on an external hard drive, the sooner you’ll be protected from losing years of precious memories or important documents. Backups will also protect your data if you happen to fall victim to a ransomware attack.
Keep Operating Systems & Anti-Virus Software Updated
Operating system developers are constantly updating their software to protect users from security weaknesses and loopholes. If you don’t have automatic updates turned on, be sure to enable it right way. The most recent WannaCry Ransomware attack affected Windows machines that were not up to date. Simply updating these systems could have prevented users from being affected. Some are wary of updating their operating systems because they’re worried it can “break” something or cause their computers to run more slowly, but if you’re keeping a backup of all your data, then you have nothing to worry about. These updates are important to maintaining the “well-being” of your computer. It's also very important to maintain and update your Anti-Virus software, as well as run regularly scheduled scans.
Don’t Fall Victim to Outdated Technology
Many of the affected users in the most recent attack were still using Windows XP, an operating system that is over 16 years old. Microsoft has stopped supporting this software, with the last regular security update for XP released in 2014. While Microsoft did release a security update for XP in light of the recent attacks, there is no reason to continue using old technology. Operating systems become out dated, the code gets old, and it gets expensive to maintain. That’s why new operating systems are released every so often. If you use Windows, I recommend updating to Windows 10, but Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are still being supported for the time being. Windows 7 extended support ends in January 2020, and Windows 8.1 extended support ends in January 2023, so be sure to update your OS before that point in time.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication Where Possible
Many websites offer two-factor authentication, which greatly increases your account security. I recommend using two-factor authentication on any websites or services that offer it. Once activated, you will be prompted for additional information if you login from an unrecognized device. You’ll receive a text message or email with a uniquely generated code that you will need to input in order to verify your identity. If you get a prompt for this code and you aren’t trying to login, then there is a chance someone may be trying to access your account. You’ll have two-factor authentication enabled though, so their attempts to access your information are futile.
Keep Your Phone Encrypted and Locked
Smartphones are another category of technology that is consistently improving. With that comes some minor risks. Apple smartphones are encrypted by default, and most new Android phones are also being encrypted by default. When purchasing a phone, be sure that what you are purchasing is encrypted or is able to be encrypted after purchase.
Many of our smartphones contain the most sensitive information about us, and we carry them around every day. If you lose it, it can be disastrous. Be sure that you’re enabling screen lock security so that a code or fingerprint is required to unlock the phone. It may seem like a small inconvenience, but that can go a long way in protecting your information if you lose your phone.
The Internet and technology may be intimidating for some, but in a time where technology drives progress, it’s important you don’t get left behind. Utilizing these simple steps can help you easily protect yourself and your most precious data. If you have any questions about this article or how Total Wealth Planning keeps client data secure, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message here.