Is This You? Common Practices That Put Your Personal Data at Risk

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IT professionals and cybersecurity specialists are constantly thinking of ways to improve security online. It has become an absolute necessity in recent years, thanks to everything from big business data breaches to individual identity theft.

On a smaller scale, consumers are demanding more transparency from businesses that collect their data. While online privacy protection has increased over the years, there are still common practices that can put personal data at risk. When consumers aren’t fully aware of those practices (due to the lack of that transparency), they could be setting themselves up for stolen identities and fraud.

So, what are some of those common practices, and what needs to be done to protect individuals who don’t want their data exposed to the world?

Credit Card Storing

It’s estimated that 94 million Americans store their credit card information online. Consumers are quick to give their information to their favorite online retailers, whether they’re making individual purchases, signing up for a subscription service, or setting up automatic bill-pay.

While storing credit card information offers convenience, it also puts you at risk. Most online businesses are quick to reassure their customers that their private information is safe. But, that only goes so far. For example, think back to the Target catastrophe of 2013, when over 40 million customers had their credit card information stolen. The purchases made on those cards weren’t solely online, but it shows how easily determined hackers can break into even major corporations.

The good news is in most cases, not all of your information is stored. You might still need to enter a security code or other form of identity confirmation, even if the rest of your information is already available. This makes storage a bit safer, but it can still be easy for keyloggers to “break in” and steal your information.

So, what should be done instead? There are several options for keeping yourself safe, including:

    • Entering your credit card information each time you make an online purchase
    • Using a debit card instead
    • Using a “virtual” credit card
    • Not allowing businesses to save your information (there is usually a checkbox)

Additionally, don’t ever store your information on a public computer or device. Your home WiFi is probably encrypted, but public servers usually are not. Even if you don’t save your data on a public device, if it isn’t encrypted, a talented hacker can monitor your online activity and you could be at risk of having that data stolen.

Sharing Information on Social Media

How many social media accounts do you have? How many times have you had to share personal information on those sites? Maybe you haven’t given your credit card information, but depending on the things you’ve shared, you could be at risk of everything from your employment data being leaked, to your birth records or even your Social Security number becoming available to hackers.

There’s good news to this side of the internet. The future of privacy will see governments, NGOs, and technology leaders taking a closer look at things like control over data, predictive analysis, and greater IoT (Internet of Things) security. Positive changes are already being made when it comes to your privacy.

For example, Apple just announced a new privacy control feature on its devices that will keep third-party apps from shadowing you and gathering your personal information. Previously, certain apps on your phone could “shadow” your habits and learn more about you in order to effectively market to your needs/wants. But, if that information were to get into the wrong hands, it could cause major problems.

The best thing you can do, though, is to take your privacy into your own hands, especially across social media. Use passphrases instead of passwords, only use a secure WiFi network when you’re entering information, and only give that information to sites with privacy policies in place. The more you educate yourself on which sites are trustworthy, the safer you will feel when entering sensitive or private information.

Staying Safe Online

In order to protect yourself and keep your data secure online, there are a few habits you may need to change. First, encrypt your data. If you’re an IT professional, you already know all about encryption. But, for the average user/consumer, more practical tips are necessary to keep information protected. Some of the easiest ways to stay safe online and reduce your risk of identity theft include:

    • Keeping your operating systems up-to-date
    • Securing your wireless network at home and at work
    • Using a firewall
    • Adjusting privacy settings immediately on mobile devices

While it might be easy for IT or cybersecurity professionals to keep themselves safe online, it’s not always common knowledge for everyday internet users. By keeping these common practices in mind and doing what you can to stay safe, you will keep your data, your finances, and your identity safe from potential predators online.

Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to Cybersecurity and business productivity. As an avid technology enthusiast, she quickly took an interest in Cybersecurity and the rising threats businesses and individuals continue to face. She is a strong supporter of the DEF CON community and attends the conventions as much as possible to further her Cybersecurity knowledge. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitterand LinkedIn.