In the wake of high-profile hacks and ransomware attacks, maintaining digital privacy has become a growing concern for computer and smartphone users. Identity fraud hit record levels in 2016, affecting 6.15 percent of American consumers, representing 2 million more victims and a 16 percent increase from the previous year, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research report. Tax returns are a favorite target of identity thieves, with the IRS reporting that 376,000 Americans had their tax returns stolen in 2016. Nearly 32 percent of U.S. consumers now fear they will become a victim of identity theft within the next five years, an increase from 20 percent in 2014, Generali Global Assistance data shows.
Protect Your Device
Digital privacy starts with securing your device. Security provider Malwarebytes Labs recommends locking your phone with a password or biometric authentication such as fingerprint or facial recognition. Keeping your operating system, apps and antivirus software updated will help protect you against security vulnerabilities that can infect your device.
A more advanced technique for protecting your device is encrypting your data, which makes it virtually mathematically impossible for someone to access your information without proper credentials. You can also set up remote data wipe capability so that you can erase your phone if it is ever lost or stolen.
Protecting your device also means keeping your number out of the hands of individuals who might misuse it. T-Mobile explains how to block a number by dialing *67, which can be useful if you need to return a call from a caller you’re suspicious of, for example. Using caller ID to screen calls and being careful about sharing your number online will also help guard your device’s privacy.
Use Secure Networks and Websites
Connecting to a vulnerable network such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot can compromise your mobile device. Before using a public network, protect yourself by changing your device’s settings to activate a firewall when you’re using a public network, and then designate the network you’re connecting to as a public network, recommends CNET. You can further harden your connection by using a virtual private network (VPN) service, which encrypts the data traveling over your network so that anyone trying to intercept it won’t be able to decipher it.
Some websites are also less secure than others. Look for an HTTPS prefix in a site’s URL, which indicates the site is using encryption, before using the site to transmit sensitive information. Remember to log out of networks when you’re done with your browsing session.
Another way your privacy can be compromised is through online and email scams. One of the most common methods of attack is phishing, where an email sender pretends to be from a legitimate source such as a bank or government agency in order to trick you into divulging passwords, account information or other sensitive information. Sometimes the email includes an attachment with malware that can steal data from your computer.
To guard against phishing scams, the FTC recommends being cautious about clicking on links or opening attachments in emails. Instead of clicking on a link to a purported source or calling a number given in an email, do a Google search to verify the legitimate source’s actual URL or phone number.
Back Up Your Data
Backing up your data is a crucial part of digital security that has grown more important in the wake of a wave of ransomware attacks, which hold your data hostage and threaten to delete it unless you pay extortion money. Ransomware attacks, rose 250 percent during the first few months of 2017, according to security provider Kaspersky. Unfortunately, paying a ransomware attacker can mark you as an easy victim for future attacks, potentially inviting identity theft attempts.
Your best insurance against ransomware attacks is to keep your operating system and other software updated and to back up your data so that you can recover it if you need to. You can schedule automatic backups of your data by using a cloud backup service.
Protecting your device, using secure networks and websites, avoiding scams and backing up your data form four pillars of a comprehensive digital privacy strategy. By putting these tips into effect, you can enjoy a safer digital experience with less anxiety about having your privacy compromised.