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6 Ways to Protect Your Digital Data

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t had their data compromised in some way, whether by a breach of their financial institution or the hacking of an online merchant’s login, password, and user info. It’s an ongoing concern that, fortunately, the average internet user can help combat.

6 Ways to Protect Your Digital Data

Today, January 28, is Data Privacy Day, a yearly reminder of the critical importance of safeguarding your interests. Established in 2007 as the European Data Protection Day, this international effort is now recognized in 50 nations worldwide. To underscore the importance of data protection, we present a few steps you can take to defend your online privacy, tips that go beyond the basics. Each one is worth the small investment in time they’ll take to make your data more secure.

Learn which sites are sharing your data. It seems that practically every site asks us to create an account and log on to make purchases, leave comments, or access gated material. But how many of those sites are selling your data to marketers? If you use Gmail, there’s a neat hack that will help you discover which sites are repurposing your data. When asked to input your email on the site you’re visiting, make a slight alteration to your address. Type “+” before the @ symbol in your Gmail address and then enter the website’s name. Spam emails addressed to you with the website addition to your email will indicate that your data was shared by the site in question, and you’ll know who to go after with the torches and pitchforks.

Limit the Wi-Fi networks you automatically join. Once your smart device learns the Wi-Fi password to a network you’ve used, it saves that information so you don’t have to manually log in again. Unfortunately, some nefarious types use this feature to trick unsuspecting mobile users to log into spoof Wi-Fi networks with the same name as a legit network. Perhaps you’re at your favorite coffee shop, where you regularly log into their Wi-Fi. If these unscrupulous folks have set up a rogue Wi-Fi network using the same name, your phone might log onto their network without you being aware. Bingo, your data is instantly vulnerable. Take the time to check the networks that are saved in your device and prune down the list of those that are joined automatically. 

Get yourself a VPN. Virtual private networks reroute your internet paths so you’re directed through a secure remote server. There are free VPN services out there, but it might be worth exploring some of the subscription options. You can utilize a VPN when you’re on the road, which is particularly helpful for business travelers looking to secure their data.

Another reason to block ads. Ads that bounce along the page as you scroll. Ad windows that take over half the web page. Nobody likes them, many users block them, and for good reason. Some ads use live code to collect information about your digital activity that can then be sold. Happily, many browser extensions are capable of stopping these ads, so take a moment to find one that suits your needs. Should an ad blocker wreak havoc with one of your preferred sites, and you find the risk acceptable, you can whitelist that site so that the ad-blocking extension will allow the site to display normally.

Protect the home front. Many home wireless routers have been found to have security lapses that could potentially leave your home devices (think phones, TVs, assistants, and internet-enabled housewares) vulnerable. Fortunately, there’s a simple process to make your router more secure. First, connect the router to your computer via ethernet cable to update the router’s firmware. Then, to change settings on the router, enter the router’s local IP (internet protocol) address on your computer’s browser. (Find the address in the router’s manual or look it up at routeripaddress.com.) Once you’re logged in, change the username, password, and SSID (service set identifier); that’s the name of your home network, which may well have been set up with your own name as the network’s handle. Change the SSID to a name that doesn’t directly identify your network with you or your family; this will help hide your Wi-Fi network from unwanted prowlers. You’ll then have to update the network name in each device that automatically connects, but it’s worth the effort.

Protect data on your fitness device. You may have your home and workplace shored up, but there are other ways for hackers to access your data. You may be sporting one on your wrist right now. Yes, wearable fitness devices can be vulnerable, since most models use Bluetooth to pair up with their owner’s smartphone or computer. Unfortunately, that data transfer can be exploited by nearby sniffers, which are used to monitor data flowing from one computer or device to another. Along with the expected health and fitness data on your device, there’s also identifying information such as your name, address, password, and GPS data. Turn off the device’s wireless settings until you’re ready to upload data to your phone or computer; then keep wireless off until your next upload.

It will take just a few minutes to implement these suggestions today. Making the time to protect your information now might just save you down the road. Do your part to avoid being part of the next data breach or info hack.

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