In an increasingly interconnected world, protecting your data is more important, and challenging, than ever before. Data safety, or the practice of protecting sensitive information, is an absolute necessity for everyone.
However, what does data safety mean for you? Whether you’re just looking to protect your own information, or you need to create a data protection plan for a business, it’s important to sort out what data safety and security means for you. Here are a few pieces of advice on how to protect information online to help you out:
Data Safety Means Understanding Your Digital Footprint
One of the basic rules of data safety for businesses and individuals alike is keeping an eye on your digital footprint. What’s a digital footprint? It’s basically the trail of information you leave behind when you surf the web.
Digital footprints come in two forms: “passive” footprints and “active” footprints. Passive digital footprints are largely unintentional pieces of data that you leave behind simply by visiting certain websites when web servers log your IP address to identify your internet service provider (and rough geographical location). Active digital footprints are created when you submit information online—such as when you enter your credit card into an online store’s checkout or when you fill out a form to get access to a file.
Creating websites and blog articles (like this one) can be another way to actively expand your digital footprint. It should be noted that a lot of the information related to your digital footprint—especially your passive footprint—is largely benign and may not pose any direct risk to your data security. However, it’s still important to understand your digital footprint and to remain aware of just what kind of information you’re putting out there for others to find.
A common use for digital footprint information, such as your browsing history, is for advertisers to personalize ads based on your apparent interests. For example, if you visit a lot of webpages for computer stores and have an account with an online retailer, you might see offers for computers from that retailer’s site.
Your digital footprint can also be used to track your online activity. Different groups might use this for different purposes—some benign, some malicious.
It’s necessary to remember that everyone has a digital footprint. By remaining aware of this fact, you can consciously make decisions that help you control your footprint—and thus help you maintain better information security when using the internet.
Data Safety Means Taking Basic Precautions
Information safety is key for preventing identity theft and other forms of fraud online. Thankfully, there are a few basic precautions that people can take to improve their data security when using the internet.
For example, one basic precaution that you can take to ensure data safety is to create strong passwords for your online accounts and personal devices. Strong passwords help increase cyber security by making it more difficult for cybercriminals to guess your account credentials. How can you create a strong password? A few basic guidelines include:
- Making sure your passwords are at least eight characters long – longer passwords are harder to guess or “brute force” with random guesses.
- Incorporating special characters (i.e. @, #, $, %, ^, &, and *), both uppercase and lowercase letters, and numbers when possible – these nonstandard characters add more possibilities for each digit of your password, making it much more difficult to crack.
- Avoiding simple words – common words/phrases are extremely easy to guess, even when using variations that substitute in numbers and symbols. Also, basic words like “God,” “Best,” and “Awesome” have proven to be extremely common, so they’re often the first things hackers try when guessing passwords. The names of family members or significant others should be avoided for similar reasons.
- Using different passwords for each account/service you use – while having a single password for every account may be convenient, it poses an unacceptable level of risk for your information safety. If one account is ever cracked, then the attacker can potentially access every other account you have. Be safe, vary your account passwords.
- Periodically changing your passwords – while you don’t have to go to the extreme of changing passwords every week, making periodic changes to your account passwords once a season/quarter can help you protect your data.
One last piece of advice for ensuring data safety online is to never submit your information to a website or download a file until you’ve verified whether the site/file is safe. Checking for SSL protection is a good measure, but not a perfect one. This is because some scammers will pay for SSL certificates to try to fool savvy consumers. Instead, consider always checking full website URL addresses, vetting sender identities in emails, and using antivirus/antimalware programs to check downloads before executing them.
These are just a few basic pieces of advice for maintaining your data safety and security. Need help checking for cyber security threats on your computer or network? Sign up for the free Knogin software to get started!