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Tips to Protect Your Personal Data

man in a blue shirt and glasses sits on a beige couch in front of a bookshelf and uses his smartphone

In a world where everything is available at your fingertips, it is also easy to encounter a data breach. Protecting your data is easy but in today’s world there are many steps to ensure the best protection. Below are some tips to get started in creating a secure space for your personal data.

1. Secure Your Accounts

This one might seem obvious, but choosing strong passwords for your accounts is essential. Avoid using typical passwords and choose different ones for each account. If you’re having trouble choosing passwords, a password manager can help with that. Additionally, two-factor authentication with your financial and email accounts is highly recommended.

2. Protect Your Web Browsing

It is no secret that companies and websites track absolutely everything you do online. Every click, like, and website collects information about your browsing habits, location, and more. In other words, the internet is constantly learning information about you.

Many websites will offer ways to get out of data collection, but it is important to use these tools and do it manually. Another option for protecting your web browsing is to install the HTTPS Everywhere extension which directs you to the secure version of a site, making it difficult for a data breach. This is important specifically if you’re on a public WiFi. Additionally, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) to add a layer of security. It can add additional security from your Internet service provider and minimize tracking. However, all internet activity still flows through the VPN servers, so if you decide to use a VPN, you’re trusting that company over your Internet service provider.

3. Use Anti-Virus Software

Viruses still can be an issue, even though they are not as prominent as they were a decade ago. It is a security risk and it’s good to be aware of this and have it under control. If you have a Windows computer, they seemingly are more prone to viruses. If your computer runs Windows 10, Microsoft has built-in software, Windows Defender. If you have an older version of Windows, Malware Bytes is an effective, unintrusive protective tool. Mac users are usually safe from viruses, as there is protection included in macOS. However, if additional protection is desired, Malware Premium is also available for macOS.

In addition to using anti-virus software, it is important to update your operating systems frequently. Oftentimes, a security update will be included and is more effective than anti-virus software. The three major operating systems can update automatically, so be sure to check that your automatic updates are enabled. For apps and other software, you may need to find and install the check for updates feature. This can often be found in the app settings.

4. Be Cautious of Sketchy Software

This seems self-explanatory, but it is important to be skeptical of everything you download to your phone or computer. If you’re downloading something from a questionable website, this could create a potential security issue. Many of these apps track your data without asking for your consent. Make sure what you’re downloading is legitimate and trustworthy. Frequently go through your phone and delete apps that you don’t use often. With the apps on your phone and computer, you can audit the privacy permissions. Use your best judgment and edit the privacy based on what makes sense. Use these same principles on your computer.

5. Be Careful with Email Links

Email inboxes can become quite full with spam, unwanted emails, and unsafe links. Only open links from people and companies you trust. Opening an unstable link can infect your computer with malware. Additionally, email phishing can trick you into giving personal information such as your passwords, social security numbers or even account numbers. This can allow scammers to gain access to your financial accounts and personal accounts.

While this is an alarming problem, there are many ways to effectively recognize a phishing email or text and protect yourself. These emails will usually appear to be from a company you know and trust. They may also provide a narrative that will manipulate you into clicking a link or opening an attachment. Often, these emails may state there is an issue with your account, therefore asking you to provide your account information. Additionally, they may include a fake invoice, show eligibility for a government refund, offer a coupon for something free, or pressure you to click on a link to make a payment.

Aside from email phishing awareness, there are ways to protect yourself. A spam filter is effective, but scammers are constantly trying to outsmart these filters, so there are extra layers of protection that can help. As mentioned above in section one, using a private network or using security software can limit scammers’ ability to infiltrate your inbox. Set automatic updates on your phone and computer as they could give vital protection against security threats. Backing up your data and using a multi-factor authentification make it harder and nearly impossible for scammers to gain access to your personal information.

6. Lock Phone if You Lose It

If you somehow lose track of your phone, make sure you lock it in case it is stolen. Smartphones are encrypted, but there are a few steps to take to make sure your phone is locked down. Plan ahead by using a strong passcode alongside your fingerprint or face login. Make sure your phone is set up with a remote tracking feature. This can be done in the Settings of your iPhone or Android.

While thinking through this can be quite overwhelming, protecting your personal data is an important routine as it can help you avoid a lot of unwarranted security breaches. Being on top of your personal data security can help you establish good online habits and judgment. Be smart, trust your instincts, and don’t open anything that you don’t trust. It is ok to invite a bit of paranoia when it comes to privacy and security- it’s worth it!

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