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Privacy Awareness Week runs from May 6-12 this year, which makes it a great time to talk about data privacy and protecting our information. Everything we do online leaves a trail of personal data, and that data is often tracked, monitored, and analysed. Some of it remains private and some of it is shared widely, so it is important to be aware of where our data is being stored, and who has access to it.
When companies identify bugs or vulnerabilities in their software, they roll out patches to ensure that your device or computer is protected. Those notifications show up for a reason! It’s important to install any updates as soon as they become available to prevent hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities.
Strong passwords ensure that your accounts stay locked down and your data stays protected. With so many credential compromises in the news lately, it’s clear that attackers regularly come up with new and more effective ways to crack account passwords. Avoid using personal details in your password and use a mixture of numbers and letters as well as special characters. It’s also important to update passwords regularly, especially if you think a password may have been exposed during a breach.
A motivated person can access personal or confidential data in seconds. At work, it’s essential to lock your computer any time you’re away from your desk, especially if you have logins auto-saved in your web browser. It’s also important to ensure that your mobile device has a strong PIN or password to protect your data if the device lost or stolen. Keep those private photos private!
Be careful when using public WIFI. It’s important to remember that data that traverses public WiFi is visible to the operators of that network, which means that anything that is sent over insecure websites or apps could be visible, including credentials. If you need to use public WIFI, ensure that you’re keeping logins and data sharing to a minimum.
Virtual private networks are extensions of private networks that create secure tunnels which allow you to connect directly to a computer or a server across the internet. This ensures that data you transmit is not being shared across the open internet. VPNs are most commonly used to connect remotely to your work network, but they’re useful even on your home computer and mobile device to add an additional layer of anonymity to your online activity.
Most social networks and banking websites have two-factor authentication options. 2FA creates a second layer of protection when logging into your private accounts. In addition to your password, two-factor authentication forces an additional security step - most commonly an SMS message sent to your phone or a request for an authentication number. This ensures that your account is protected if an attacker tries to access it, or if your password is compromised in a data breach.
It’s a regular occurrence these days to receive emails with links to a malicious download or a website designed to steal your credentials. It’s essential to always investigate, and to trust your gut - did you receive a password reset email without requesting one? Be suspicious and check the link before you click. Received a message asking you to log in to correct an account issue? Skip the link and log in to the account via your browser to check on things.
We’ve all had social media for so long that we often forget how many apps and services we’ve allowed to connect to these accounts over the years. These external sites often have access to our social media data, as well as access to our connections. Open your social media privacy/security settings and spend some time removing access for any apps or services that you no longer use, and then review the permissions for any that you’d prefer to keep.
Fitness and travel apps offer map sharing as a feature, and this is a great way to share information with friends. However, posting these publicly also provide clear visibility into your neighbourhood, your running route, or your path to work. If you are being targeted, an attacker can identify your home address or your favourite places to visit just by looking at your public maps.
It’s common for people to dismiss privacy concerns by stating that they have nothing to hide. It’s important to remember that our personal data is something worth protecting regardless of how confidential our information is. Any information or photo that you post online will be accessible and searchable for years, and every service that you sign up for with your primary email address can be identified and listed. Does that meditation app really need your birthdate and your phone number? Do those house party photos from college still need to be online? Do you really want weekly emails from your coffeeshop? Limiting the amount of information that you share online will limit the amount of access that is available externally, which means that you stay in control of your data.
And there you have it. Celebrate Privacy Awareness Week this year with some (or all!) of the tips listed above and take the time to ensure your personal data stays personal.
Alexandra Taylor is a Compliance Analyst at eSentire, with a focus on corporate governance, internal compliance, and awareness training. Alexandra provides guidance on all things security and privacy to the eSentire team.