Avoid These Five Data Privacy Mistakes
- Weak Passwords
- Out-of-Date Software
- Malware Infections
- Using Insecure Connections
- Sharing Personal Information
With recent revelations about Facebook, data privacy is a topic of increasing concern. Increasingly, devices such as cars, refrigerators, and thermostats as well as phones and computers are becoming more intelligent and collecting data about their owners. This data, especially when including identifiable personal information, can allow identity theft or even actual theft as information on social media and from devices such as thermostats can inform thieves when one is away from home. While the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union has been pivotal in regulating how companies may use data, other countries lag behind in regulatory sophistication, meaning that consumers must constantly be vigilant about protecting themselves by avoiding the following mistakes.
1. Weak Passwords
A password is the first layer of protection for most personal data. Passwords of eight characters or less, ones that include common words or names, and ones of low complexity can be easily cracked. To fix this, use a mixture of letters and numbers in upper and lower case and special characters. Don’t use the name of pets or relatives. A password such as “lassie” is very weak but “E#I$ssa%lLL&&&” much stronger. Two-factor authentication, in which one enters a password and then is sent a code via text message to enter, or one that uses a fingerprint or retinal scan with a password, is far more secure.
2. Out-of-Date Software
Many pieces of software have vulnerabilities which hackers may discover and exploit. Software companies routinely release updates once they discover possible security issues. Not updating software leaves it vulnerable to known exploits; instead, one should update software frequently or set programs to automatically update themselves.
3. Malware Infections
Many forms of malware are intended to steal personal information. Avoid malware infections by staying away from dubious sites such as pornographic ones. One should never click attachments or download anything that is not from a known and safe source. One should also use anti-malware software that warns of unsafe sites and scans one’s computer regularly for malware and removes infections.
4. Using Insecure Connections
Information sent over an insecure connection is not necessarily private. Avoid using public or unencrypted WiFi connections for personal information.
5. Sharing Personal Information
The abbreviation “TMI” (too much information) applies to all forms of personal data. For example, birth date is used as part of security information for bank accounts and other important financial and healthcare records. This means such information should not be shared on social media where it is publicly accessible. Similarly, sharing vacation plans in detail is an invitation to thieves who troll social media to find out about vacant houses. Many shops and websites ask for personal information (name, address, phone number, email), often as part of an effort to enroll people in loyalty programs. Unless one shops at a place regularly, there is no benefit to sharing this information and a strong disincentive, namely that each piece of shared information might be shared with other companies or harvested in a data breach.
Conclusion: Vigilance Pays Off
All people, and most especially those living outside the European Union, are responsible for maintaining their own data privacy. Avoiding unsafe practices and oversharing of data will reduce the chances of one’s becoming a victim of data privacy breaches, identity theft, or ransomware.