It has been common practice to protect our tangible assets, such as our homes, vehicles, and possessions, for many years, but digital assets, such as our personal information, are fairly new, and figuring out how to protect them can be tricky.
When it comes to your digital assets, which include your personal photos, information, and accounts, you should value them just as much, if not more, than your material assets. You protect your home with an alarm and insurance, so why wouldn’t you want to protect your personal information as well?
In this post we’ll talk about some of the ways that you can protect your data while still enjoying all of the benefits that being connected has to offer.
How to Protect Your Smartphone
Just about everyone has a smartphone, and with a smartphone comes the convenience of downloading applications for almost every need. When downloading apps, make sure to take note of exactly what the application requires to run, and what personal information it will have access to.
Make sure that the permissions make sense, and that you understand what each is intended for. A simple background application shouldn’t need access to your text messages or call history.
A good way to measure if an application is safe to use or not is to look at the number of downloads, the ratings, and any comments prior to downloading. If there are only a few downloads, and users have left negative comments, you should probably avoid it.
Make sure to avoid automatic updates so that you can view any new permissions or changes before they are downloaded to your device.
New phones come out all of the time, and for some, it’s important to have the latest and greatest on the market. In order to pay for the new device, it’s common for people to sell their old one online, but it’s important that you take the proper precautions before you do.
Start by taking all of your content off of the phone, such as photos, text messages, and emails. Back them up if you would like to keep them. Then, do a factory reset of your device. This will revert the phone back to its original state, prior to you setting up any accounts on it, or downloading any applications.
Double check to make sure that your phone has reverted to its “pre-purchase” state before handing it over to a buyer. If you don’t, you could end up handing them your banking information instead of just your old phone.
You might think that you don’t need a password on your phone because it’s always with you, or you don’t go out with it often, but what happens if it slips out of your pocket at the movie theatre, or you accidently set it down while you order coffee and someone picks it up?
Don’t make it easy for someone to access your personal information. Adding a password could give you the time you need to report it as lost or stolen, and keep a potential thief from accessing your personal, and private, information.
Protecting Your Home Computer
Malware and Viruses
Different kinds of malicious software can be attached to almost anything. Even a download from a trusted source can have added software hidden in it.
To protect yourself, start out by getting some kind of anti-virus and anti-malware program. Then, take steps to make sure that when you download, you are being smart about it, such as:
- Look for checkboxes that automatically allow additional software as part of your download.
- Read fine print, and do your best to actually read the terms and conditions.
- Do a quick search before downloading to see user reviews and comments.
- Don’t open emails or files and attachments from unknown sources.
- Don’t allow automatic updates—review changes to existing software each time an update is available.
Run a malware or anti-virus scan every few weeks to make sure that your computer is clean. A slow computer can sometimes mean that it’s been infected, so if you notice your computer behaving strangely, it might be time to take a look at what’s happening behind the scenes.
Our browsing behavior on the internet is where a lot of our personal information can become compromised. We sign up for accounts, offer information where it isn’t really necessary, and frequent our favorite social media platforms.
Some ways to add security to your browsing experience are to:
- Use secure pages (the lock icon beside your search bar in your browser indicates whether a page is secure or not).
- Go through privacy settings on browsers, websites you use, and when creating any accounts.
- Remember to sign out of any and all accounts once you are finished using them.
- Don’t use autofill on your browser.
- Don’t allow your browser to save your passwords.
Another trick to protecting yourself and avoiding phishing scams is to bookmark trusted sites, like that of your bank. Instead of typing in the address, or navigating to the site from an email, always use the bookmark. This makes sure that you don’t mistype the address, which could lead you to a different link (that looks just like your bank’s website) where scammers are waiting for you to enter your financial information.
Email accounts are notorious for spam and phishing content. Don’t open emails or attachments from addresses you don’t recognize, and never respond to chain email messages.
If you’re unsure as to whether a message is safe or not, first try looking at the domain name. For example, if your bank is called ABCBank, and you receive an email from them, their address will usually be something like “accounts@ABCBank.com”.
Senders with malicious intent will try to trick you by sending you an email with a slightly different domain, which could be something like this, “accounts@theABCBank.com”. If you still aren’t sure, compare an email address with a legitimate message that you received before, to see if the domain matches. If it doesn’t, give the supposed sender a call to see if the message is really from them.
Another tactic is to set yourself up with a secondary email address, purely for accounts and subscription information. This shouldn’t be used for anything personal, it should just be the address that you use to sign up for newsletters or new accounts. This helps to keep the amount of spam you receive to a minimum.
Backing Up Accounts
It’s a good idea to back up your data every so often. This means storing your photos, files, and any other important information on a CD or USB. If you feel that it’s necessary, you can back up your files and then reset your computer to its pre-purchase state. This is usually only necessary if you had a virus on your computer and want to ensure that you can start fresh.
Online Privacy Practices
While it would take a lot of time and effort to completely protect yourself online, and even the possibility of that is heavily debated, it’s still a good idea to make use of online privacy protection best practices. By being a savvy user, you can exercise at least some control over your digital assets and how they are used.
While our digital assets may not be the same as our physical ones, they can be considered even more important, since they can allow unwanted access to our personal identities. Browse safely, stay knowledgeable, and always do your research.
What online privacy protection tips do you have to add?