In partnership with Aspida Advisory Services
Most of us spend time online every day, and the internet has made our lives easier in many ways as we move online to shop, do our banking and find out what’s happening in the world. And of course, there’s the time many of us spend on social media. Every time we browse online we leave behind a digital footprint, which includes details of the websites we visit, the platforms we use, the emails we send and any information we submit online.
This information, relating specifically to you, is your personal data. It consists of many things, from everyday info such as your name, address and photos on your social media grid right through to your financial, medical and employment details - basically, any information that someone can use to identify you. And sadly there are many dishonest and unscrupulous people out there who can’t wait to get their hands on this data to exploit you or exploit others by pretending to be you.
Unless your personal data is secure, you are vulnerable to a variety of crimes, from identity theft and reputational damage to theft and financial fraud. And if you think your information is secure, think again!
But the good news is there are simple steps you can take, right now, to protect your personal data. Here are 14 tips to help you get started.
When you create a password, it’s important to avoid words or numbers that a cybercriminal could easily figure out, like your hometown or your birthday. Choose combinations of lower and upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols and change them regularly. Use strong, unique passwords, taking special care with your email passwords. Including passphrases when you create new passwords can make them easier to remember, or try using three random words combined together.
Creating unique passwords instead of using the same password across multiple sites is of course the ideal, but keeping track of multiple, complex passwords comes with its own challenges. That’s where a password management tool can be a lifesaver and help you to keep track. Using a password manager can help you to save and manage your passwords across different online platforms - but make sure you choose a trusted password manager which is well known and reliable.
We all know someone who is guilty of oversharing, posting details of their life - and yours - online. Maybe you are that person! This can leave you feeling vulnerable and open to judgement or criticism - but it’s not just your feelings that are at risk. Oversharing can also put your personal information at risk if details of your location, hometown, birthday, or other personal details are shared. Always remember, the more personal information you make public, the easier it is for criminals to manipulate this information and exploit the situation.
This involves providing a second form of ID verification alongside your password when you log into your account, such as a code sent by text to your phone or a code generated by a security token. Many financial institutions insist on this system of security, for example online banking, and it is becoming more common with email and retail organisations. It simply adds an other layer of protection when logging into your accounts.
A little online admin or retail therapy when you have time to kill never hurt anyone…or did it? Most free public Wi-Fi networks have very few security measures in place, which means that other people using the same network could easily gain access to your devices through these unsecured connections and steal sensitive information. Wait until you’re at home or on a secure, password-protected network before you pay your bills online or splurge with your credit card.
Before you enter personal information into a website, take a look at the top of your browser. If there is a padlock symbol and the URL begins with “https,” that means the site is secure. There are also other ways to check that the site you are visiting is secure, such as a “verified secure” seal. But stay alert - scammers will take advantage of the fact that sites with these checks and balances appear more trustworthy and may try to make their fake site appear secure by taking similar steps. Certain things like spelling errors or a different email address than the typical sender can be a clue that the email is spam.
Have you ever checked your privacy settings for web browsing, your accounts and social media sites? If not, how do you know who can see the information you access and post online? It’s important to remember that as soon as you’ve hit send or share, that message, photo or video is out there and you have little control over where it ends up. So take a moment to check your privacy settings and only share with ‘friends’ you actually know and can trust. Even the most innocent comment or image can come back to bite you!
our cache is the data stored on your device when you browse online. It saves you having to download images, logos and technical files every time you visit a website, and without this temporary store of files your browser would run much more slowly. Your cache can also store personal data you’ve provided to some websites, which again makes return visits easier. But as well as making life easier for you, it also makes life easier for hackers, who could have easier access to sensitive or personal information. Clearing your cache will lower your risk if there is a security breach on your device.
We are bombarded with emails and information every day, and it’s so easy to click on a link without giving it too much thought. That’s what the criminal minds behind phishing scams are relying on. Phishing is a malicious attempt to infect your PC and a careless click on an innocent looking link can easily result in scammers being able to download software to your device, enabling them to gain access to your data or damage your system. So it pays to be extra cautious. Check for clues that an email is spam by looking for things like spelling errors or an unusual email address. Be vigilant for suspicious links and attachments by adopting a zero trust approach. If in doubt, do not click!
Install additional protection to protect your devices in the form of antivirus software, which can detect and protect against viruses and other malicious software. In doing so it helps to protect your personal data and give you peace of mind.
Keep your devices up to date with the latest software and application updates. These updates can contain enhancements for existing security features, fix bugs and sometimes introduce new security features. In short, they help to keep your device more secure and less vulnerable to being compromised.
Payment systems such as Apple Pay deliver an additional layer of security, rather than entering card details into sites. Better still, have a separate card unconnected to your bank account for internet and travel.
Ensure you have your bank contact details and other key details readily available should you be a victim of a cyber event, so you are able to protect yourself as quickly as possible. You may need to contact your bank and other account providers without delay to inform them of the problem and cancel access to your accounts. In the panic of discovering you’ve been hacked, the last thing you need is to discover you don’t have the necessary information to hand to take damage limitation steps.
Schools and workplaces generally provide a level of online awareness information for individuals but you should also consider additional ways to provide cybersecurity training for you and your family. There are many online courses and resources, but make sure you use a trusted source. One easy way to get started is to share this article with your family and friends. You’re welcome!
You can view all of our articles for Cybersecurity Awareness Month in partnership with Aspida here.