All the Tips You Need to Keep Your Personal Information Safe OnlineUpdated: September 16, 2019
Do you know how to keep your private information safe from snooping eyes and cybercriminals that might want to misuse it?
There's a huge amount of information we share online and store on our devices. From names, addresses, contact information, social security numbers and credit card details to personal documents, photos, videos, and even conversations.
And we must actively secure this kind of information from hackers, malware, and other online threats.
So how do you keep your personal information safe online?
We've created a list with all the tips you need for keeping your personal information safe and your devices secure against cyber attacks.
- Antivirus software - Most hacking attacks happen through viruses, spyware, Trojans, and other types of malware. And you can get your computer infected while browsing online easier than you might think. Installing antivirus software on your computer will make sure no malware will get infect the device without your knowledge. The app will detect and remove any malicious file before it gets to damage your files or endanger your personal information.
- Firewall - Besides antivirus software, you also want to enable a firewall on your computer. The firewall acts as a shield between your computer and the internet and will only allow trusted sources to communicate with your computer.
- Updated operating system - Keeping your operating system updated at all times is also important for keeping your private information safe. With each update, developers patch security flaws and enhance the overall security.
- Software updates - Same as with the operating system, you want to make sure all the apps you install on your computer are up to date. Especially your antivirus software. With each update, antivirus software enriches its database with more types of malware so it becomes more powerful against cyber attacks.
- Backup your data - If you want to keep your personal information safe and secure, you want to make sure you always have a duplicate copy. In some types of cyberattacks, called ransomware, the attacker gains access to your computer, locks your access to your own files, and won't allow you the access back until you pay a ransom. In lots of cases, you won't see the files back even if you pay the ransom. To prevent losing important files due to cyber attacks, a stolen or damaged device, make sure you back them up on an external hard drive, USB stick, or in cloud storage.
- Encrypt your data - Encrypting your data means that no one has access to the files without the key only you have. One of the most secure ways to encrypt the data on your device is full-disk encryption (FDE). You can do so by using BitLocker on Windows or FileVault on macOS.
- Don't store passwords on your devices - For strong data protection, you must be mindful about where you're keeping notes of your accounts usernames and passwords. A spreadsheet on your desktop containing all of your passwords is not a secure way to protect your data. Neither is a post-it note near your laptop. To make sure your passwords are safe, it's best to use a password manager app.
- Disable file and media sharing - When you use a home WiFi network and more devices are connected to it, you might find that the file and media sharing is enabled. If you're not in need to share files with other peers on the network, it's best to disable this feature so no one can have access to your folders.
- Get rid of old files - If you're backing up your files on cloud storage, you're doing the right thing. But there's also important to regularly review the files and the places where you save them. If you get rid of old files from your computer, for example, you also want to check the could storage and delete them from there too. Also, make sure you're getting rid of any file that might be stored on a cloud account you don't use anymore.
- Secure your WiFi network - A poor WiFi network leaves a door open for cybercriminals to gain access to your computer and steal personal information. Even beginner hackers can hack into an unsecured network with the right tools. Secure your network by changing the router's name and adding a strong and hard to guess password. Also, make sure the type of encryption your router is using is strong enough.
- Antivirus protection - Your desktop computer or laptop is not the only one needing protection against malware attacks. Also, install antivirus software on your smartphone to keep your private data safe.
- Review app privacy settings - The apps you install on your mobile phone ask for your permission to access all kinds of data on your phone. From your location and media files to even your contact list and SMS texts. Review all the permissions you gave to apps and make sure it makes sense for them to access that type of information.
- Lock your devices - Your private data can wind up in the wrong hands and being used maliciously if it happens to lose or misplace your phone. If your phone automatically locks, it will add an extra layer of protection in case your device gets lost or stolen.
- Backup your mobile data - You don't only keep private data on your laptop but your smartphone also stores all kinds of sensitive data and files. Don't forget to back up the files on your smartphone in cloud storage or on an external device.
- Disable Bluetooth - Hackers can exploit Bluetooth connectivity to deploy attacks on a device and they can only to so if the Bluetooth is active. When you're not using the Bluetooth fr a specific action, make sure it is turned off completely.
- Don't install any app - Only install apps that are from trusted sources. Some apps you find on the market contain malware that will put your personal information and data in danger. Most of the malicious apps are found in the security and flashlights categories.
- Set to factory settings if you're giving up your device - Before you sell or hand out your smartphone to someone else, make sure you deleted everything that's on it and restore it to factory settings. You don't want someone else to get access to your information and accounts.
- Strong passwords - To properly keep your personal information safe online it's crucial you protect your accounts with strong and hard to guess passwords. Even though a sole password won't guarantee your accounts can't get hacked, the stronger the password, the fewer chances for it to get cracked.
- Don't use personally identifiable information in passwords - You want to avoid using personally identifiable information in your passwords such as name, date of birth, close ones' birth dates, or sensitive info (social security number, credit card number). Things like your pets' names or close ones' birth dates are easy to find out via social media profiles so they make for weak passwords. And using sensitive data in your passwords will put your money in danger if someone should find out your password.
- Use different passwords for different accounts - A must-follow rule when it comes to managing passwords for improved online security is to never use the same password for multiple accounts. If one of your accounts gets hacked, the attacker will have access to all of your other accounts too.
- Be mindful when sharing information - This is about protecting your private information by using common sense. When someone requires you to share any type of private data with them, first ask yourself why would they need that information? Is it really necessary for you to give up such sensitive information?
- Keep an eye out for impostors - Cybercriminals often pretend to be employees from a bank, credit card company, or other imposing entity so they can lure victims into providing sensitive information. Don't share personal information over the phone, email, or over the internet if you don't have solid evidence the request is real.
- Get rid of old data - Keeping your devices clean is one of the best practices for protecting personal information. And it also helps increase the usability of the devices. Regularly check your desktop computer, laptop, and smartphone for files you no longer use or need and make sure you delete them from anywhere.
- Shred documents - One of the most common ways criminals deploy identity theft activities is through dumpster diving. If you receive mail that contains private information (credit card statements, bank account statements, etc), first shred or destroy the documents before you toss them in the bin.
- Beware the About Me page - On social media platforms, especially on Facebook, you can fill in a great deal of personal information on your About Me page. From your birth date and where you live to even where you attended school. It's not always a good thing to fill out all the fields because you're making public lots of private information. For example, you might want to not give everyone the exact place where you live.
- Keep sensitive information private - Along with information about your whereabouts or life history, Facebook also asks for your email and phone number. Make sure you keep this personal information on private so strangers won't get to find out your contact information.
- Don't overshare information - Social media makes it extremely easy to share with your peers everything you do during the day. But in order to keep your information safe online, you must put a limit on the things you share. Be especially conscious about always tagging your location with your posts. This can let criminals know when you are away on holiday so they can take advantage of your lonely home.
- Review the privacy settings - You might want to take a look over the privacy settings on your account and make sure the personal information on your profile and the posts you share can only be viewed by your friends. You have more options to control who gets to see what on your profile, so you better take advantage of those privacy settings.
- Only friend people you know - People who you have on your friends' list can see everything you're posting online. And the more strangers you have in your list, the higher the chances for your personal information to be in danger. Try to only friend people you actually know in real life so you keep your personal information safe on social media.
- Block suspicious users - Don't be afraid to use the "Block" button on strangers that seem suspicious. When someone you don't know gets in touch with you, take a look over their profile. Some fake accounts are easy to spot cause they often lack a profile picture or there's no activity on their profile. But keep in mind that smarter attackers take their time to set up a profile that seems genuine at first sight.
- Don't share personal information with people you don't know - Hackers are often impersonating someone else so they gain the trust of their victims in order to make them share sensitive information. If you're starting to communicate with someone you don't know online, keep the personal information you share with them at a minimum. Just because someone seems real on social media, it doesn't mean it actually is.
- Beware the links - Hacking social media accounts is more about social engineering than sophisticated tools. Cybercriminals often send malicious links through messages trying to make them seem genuine. The goal is to get users to a website where they'll be required to provide personal information such as account credentials. Or, the links can install malware on your computer once they are clicked.
- Use multi-factor authentication - Even if you have a strong password for your social media accounts, it is not always enough to keep your private data safe. To add an extra layer of security, enable multi-factor authentication where the platform allows this feature.
- Log out - If you're not logging out from your profile, anyone with access to the device is able to log in your account so you better make a habit of logging out after each session. This is especially important when you're using computers in public places (school, friends' house). To see if you're logged in from somewhere other than your own devices, check the active sessions in your account settings.
- Public WiFi networks - Public WiFi networks (in coffee shops, hotels, venues, etc) are most dangerous for one's private information. They are poorly secured and can be easily be hacked. If you're using WiFi networks on a regular basis, especially to make money transactions or log in to your accounts, don't ever use them without a VPN service. The VPN will create a secure connection to keep your private data safe.
- Learn about social engineering techniques - Being aware of the social engineering techniques cybercriminals use will help you protect yourself from cyber-attacks online. There are many ways in which criminals trick users into providing sensitive information so it's important to know what to avoid in the online world.
- Beware fake emails - One of the most commons ways for hackers to steal users' private information is thorough sending fake emails. Don't open any email that pops into your inbox. Look for poor graphics, spelling errors, grammar mistake.
- Don't click on pop-ups - You know those annoying pop-ups that flood your screen when you're browsing online? Well, not only they are annoying, but they can also contain malware. If the pop-ups are malicious, once you click on them, malware will automatically get installed on your computer and attackers will gain access to your private information.
- Don't download files from untrusted sources - Other places where malware hides in the online world are downloadable media files, games, and pieces of software. Even if you're desperate to get a crack for the latest game out there, first make sure the source you're downloading from is trustworthy else you'll get hackers in you device stealing your information instead of a fun game.
- Use multi-factor authentication - The traditional authentication method with username and password is not highly secure. There are lots of data breaches going on, sophisticated tools that can generate over 500 million passwords per second, weak passwords that are easy to guess. Even though a strong password increases your security game, it's best to also enable multi-factor authentication on services and platforms that allow it.
- Save no password in your browser - If someone should gain access to your computer, they'll also be able to access any accounts you saved the passwords for. This is a dangerous practice for online security. There are password manager apps that not only safely store your passwords, but they also work with browsers to make your authentication process easier.
- What seems too good to be true, it probably is - When browsing online, you'll see lots of advertisements giving you the best news. You've won the lottery even if you didn't buy a ticket. Contests that promise a big prize upon registering. Use common sense when stumbling into such scams and don't fall for them. If it seems to good to be true, it most likely is.
- Disposable emails - If you want to register for a service or on a platform you're not sure that can be trusted, you can always take advantage of disposable emails instead of using your real email.
- Only use secure websites - When browsing online, always make sure the websites you're visiting are secured. If you're seeing HTTPS in the URL bar and a padlock icon next to it, then the website is secured. Stay away from HTTP sites as they have no level of security.
- Look for old, unused accounts - Old accounts you no longer use might still contain sensitive information such as credit card details, or personal documents and files. Think about what accounts you're not using anymore and get rid of them as they can become the target for cybercriminals.
- Use secure encrypted messaging apps - We share all kinds of sensitive information in the conversations we have over the internet. To keep this personal information safe, it's important that the apps we're using to communicate provide end-to-end encryption for our messages.