Pamper Your Digital Footprint

In the first of our series of digital tech articles, Liat Hughes Joshi shares six best practice tips to help keep your data safe in an online world

With our lives being evermore lived out in cyberspace, you might well be increasingly conscious of and concerned about your personal data privacy and online security. A 2018 survey, for the Chartered Institute of Marketing, found that almost half of consumers don’t understand where and how companies use their data.

The introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018 has had an impact but hacking and identity fraud continue to be rife, particularly with the advent of smart home products and our growing reliance on online financial and retail services.

Nick Shaw, EMEA Vice President at Norton, the consumer wing of cyber security company Symantec, says: ‘As issues around data loss, theft or surveillance continue to hit the headlines, data privacy has become a significant concern for consumers worldwide. Increasingly we’re seeing people vote with their feet, leaving services that don’t appear to respect, or make it easy to maintain, consumers’ data security and privacy.’

Here we look at the steps you can take, and some tools you can use, to help keep your online data as private and safe as possible:

  1. Ensure passwords are varied and secure

Most of us enter a plethora of passwords every day in the Internet world we now inhabit – for everything from online supermarket shopping and banking, to logging-in to read your daily newspaper. As Shaw puts it, ‘should one account be compromised, you could effectively hand over the keys to the rest of your online kingdom and have your identity compromised further.’

There’s always the dilemma though that if you vary passwords, you might not remember them.

The safe solution:
avoid easily guessable passwords (so not, for example, the name of your children, partner or pet, especially if these are mentioned online somewhere).  Some experts also suggest having a fake date of birth or mother’s maiden name, as passwords for potentially less secure websites where it isn’t important that these match the real version, or using memorable personal phrases, with numeric variants, rather than just words.  If an account you use has been breached, immediately change any other accounts’ passwords that used the same one elsewhere. Vary passwords as much as possible and use a secure password vault app or site to keep track of them. Try: 1Password, DashLane, mSecure or LastPass.

  1. Consider the information available about you online as a mosaic rather than in isolation

You might have only posted snippets of data on a particular site but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for fraudsters to aggregate information about you or your business from various sources. As an example, they could work out the likely year of your birth from your university/ college attendance mentioned on LinkedIn and combine that with the birthday you’ve posted on Facebook. Bingo! your full date-of-birth. It’s this kind of ‘jigsaw building’ approach that can create a sufficient picture for someone to commit fraud.

The safe solution: consider the information about you online in its entirety and where possible, delete some of it if you feel it could be compromising. Double check privacy settings on social media/ networking sites are not set to ‘public’.

  1. Use Paypal to limit the number of sites you provide credit card details to

The more you dish out credit card details left, right and centre, especially to smaller sites or those that store your details, the more chance there is of their security being compromised.

The safe solution: whenever possible use PayPal – it’s a simple and effective way to cut down who has your card information.

  1. Be extra-wary when surfing on public Wifi

It’s tempting to use Wifi hotspots when out and about but even logging in at your favourite, familiar coffee shop can be risky.  Public Wifi hotspots often have weaker security, making it easier for unsavoury types to snoop and hack your gadgets.

The safe solution: avoid higher risk activities on public Wifi, such as logging into online banking accounts or using your credit card to pay for something. Ideally skip anything that uses a password at all. . Look into setting up an extra layer of security too – Norton’s Security Deluxe product can be loaded on to up to five devices, and will encrypt  your data on public Wifi networks, as well as protecting against viruses.’

  1. Add a strong home cyber security hub to your WiFi system

By adding an extra layer of security to your home WiFi, you can maximise your defences against hackers and other tech nasties. A good home security hub will constantly monitor your network for suspicious behaviour or unknown connections.

The safe solution: Bitdefenderbox can be used instead of, or alongside, your existing router and provides enhanced security for all your gadgets including smart home devices such as smart speakers or smart TVs.

  1. Always download the latest software updates

Downloading software updates to your phone, tablet or computer can seem tiresome, especially when it gets in the way of whatever you’re doing online, but they can contain vital security fixes. These address any identified weaknesses in software that might make it vulnerable for a cyber criminal to access your data and compromise your tech security.  The safe solution: a pretty simple one – next time your gadget prompts you to update an operating system or some software, don’t be quite so ready to press ‘dismiss’.

Note: this is not an exhaustive list of steps you can take to protect your data – speak to an IT professional for further advice. Feel free to try Circle Sq.’s IT in the Home  service for this.