How to protect your personal data

These days it seems like we live most of our lives online. We communicate with email and text messages, we do our shopping and our banking via apps or websites, and we store our contacts and photos digitally. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our data isn’t always secure. It’s under continual threat of loss or theft from device failure, malware, or sophisticated hacking attacks. So how do you keep your data safe?

Back it up

Firstly, you need to make sure that the data you have stored on your personal computer is safe. All hard drives have a limited lifespan, and you don’t want one to die with all your family photos on it. External hard drives are inexpensive and often come with pre-loaded backup software that will capture and save any changes made to the files stored on your computer. Windows and OSX also have built-in backup programmes. If the option is available, choose to have your backup encrypted.

It’s also a good idea to keep an off-site backup as well. With internet speeds increasing all the time, you can back up your essential files (or even your whole computer) to services like iDrive, CrashPlan or LiveDrive. Don’t forget your mobile devices! Make sure your phone syncs to your Google or iCloud account to save photos, email and contacts, and back your devices up to your computer frequently. Some of the third-party services mentioned above also offer mobile device backup.

Be smart with your passwords

We all know that it’s a Very Bad Thing to use the same password multiple times, but with seemingly every app and website requiring you to sign in, it’s not unusual to end up with dozens or even hundreds of logins. Worse still, it’s recommended that every password is a strong mixture of no fewer than eight numbers, letters and characters. It’s inadvisable to write your passwords down, so unless you’ve got a photographic memory, a password manager is the way to go. Not only will it remember all your passwords and (in most cases) autofill them for you, but it will generate new ones on request. Programmes like LastPass have plugins for practically every type of browser and apps for your mobile devices, meaning the only password you’ll ever need to remember in the future is the one to log into your password manager.

Cover your tracks

If you’re worried about the privacy of your data while you’re surfing the internet, then you might want to consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN hides and encrypts your internet connection, meaning that hackers, cyber criminals and even your ISP can’t intercept your browsing information. This is particularly helpful if you use a lot of public Wi-Fi hotspots, which are notoriously insecure. While there are free VPN services available, they are usually ad-supported, slow, or have restrictive bandwidth caps (and one free service was recently found to be sharing clients’ bandwith with other users). Paid options are usually faster, more secure and more fully-featured.

Look for the padlock

Whenever you’re shopping online, make sure that the payment gateway you’re typing your credit card details into is using a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) processing system. It means that your credit card information is being encrypted and protected while the website is communicating with your card issuer. It’s easy to check – just look for the letters “https” in the website address, or a little padlock in the address bar or bottom right-hand corner of your screen. Other ways to keep your credit card details safe are to never include them in the body of an email and don’t let your computer or mobile device store them for future use. If you’re reluctant to give your credit card number to a retailer you’ve never used before, consider linking your card to a PayPal account instead. Most retailers accept PayPal, and it’s a great way of paying with your credit card without having to give the retailer your card number.

Losing your valuable data can be a distressing event, but by following these tips, you’ll be much more likely to avoid a cyber-disaster.

Photo by: Sai Kiran Anagani