Data Protection 101: How to Keep Your Passwords, Financial and Personal Information Safe

With so many of us confined to our homes and dependent on the Internet to work and stay in touch with family members and friends, it has never been more important to be extra vigilant where online security is concerned.

Fraudsters have been quick to exploit the current pandemic by targeting savers, investors and online consumers with scam emails and messages. So much so that the UK government has recently warned the public about a surge in COVID-19 related phishing emails designed to trick people into revealing their personal information, email logins and banking details.

In the rush of signing up to a raft of new apps and platforms to virtually conduct our everyday lives in lockdown, adopting some basic data protection best practices will be key to staying safe – and keeping your personal and sensitive information secure – when online.

Here are 5 top tips on how to stay securely connected.

  1. Initiate two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a free security feature that gives you an additional layer of protection and stops cyber criminals getting into your account – even if they have your password. By asking you to provide a second factor of information, such as a PIN or unique code that is sent by text whenever you log in, 2FA is an additional way of checking you are who you say you are.

Check if the online services and apps you use offer 2FA and turn it on, if available. Implement this option for your email accounts, social media accounts and, most importantly, your online banking services.

2          Backup and encrypt your data

If your device is hacked, then your sensitive personal data could be lost, damaged or stolen. So it is vital to manually or automatically back-up all your data – or at the very least the information that is most important to you. Should your phone, tablet or laptop be compromised, you’ll then be able to quickly restore your settings and data.

If you utilise a secure cloud storage service to back-up your data, consider utilising a PIN or password for an additional layer of protection and regularly delete old files from your backup service in addition to those you remove (or overwrite) on your local devices.

For additional security, encrypting any data you back up to a removable storage device – like a USB drive or SIM card – will make it difficult for criminals to interpret this data should your device be lost or stolen. There are plenty of easy-to-use tools out there that make it simple to encrypt your email and other information.

3          Think before sharing or clicking

Stay on constant alert, especially when it comes to sharing personal information like your national insurance number of credit card information. With so many imposters pretending to be a bank, credit card or other reputable entity, beware of clicking on a link – without thinking.

Ask yourself why someone is asking for this information and if they really are who they say they are, otherwise, you could find yourself being redirected to a website that downloads a virus or steals your passwords.

Take extra time to review every email and never open emails from sources or individuals you do not recognise. Take extra care to check emails that purport to be from your bank or another financial institution; to be safe, always open a browser window and type the URL in the address bar rather than clicking on any links in an email.

4          Sign out, switch off, and update

Every time you sign-in to an online service, take a moment to fully sign-out again after you’ve finished and then close the browser. Similarly, power off your laptop or home computer at the end of the day rather than leaving it in sleep mode; leaving devices on and connected to the Internet opens the door to rogue attacks.

Because criminals exploit weaknesses in software and apps to access your sensitive personal data, make sure your software, apps and operating system regularly to get the latest fixes to weaknesses. Turning on automatic updates will ensure you do not have to think about remembering to initiate updates.

5          Rethink your approach to passwords

It might seem like a no brainer, but using strong passwords is the simplest way to prevent getting hacked. The best passwords should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using easily guessed words or alphanumeric combinations like the names of children, pets, birthdays – all of which can be guessed by anyone looking at your Facebook profile or through a Google search.

It goes without saying that you should create separate passwords for all your accounts. Should a hacker crack, say your email login, they’ll then have the keys to the rest of your personal data kingdom – and once in, they’ll use these login credentials to access your bank accounts, credit cards, and may even steal your identity.

By Jan van Vliet, VP and GM EMEA at Digital Guardian