Businesses invest in cybersecurity tools to keep your information safe and protect their bottom lines. Data breaches get expensive, with the average breach costing $4.35 million in damages in 2022. While businesses make investments to enhance cybersecurity, consumers must take their own steps to maintain identity protection. Cyber hackers continue to get smarter and use outside-of-the-box methods to steal personal information that doesn’t belong to them. Cyber hackers operate in a lucrative industry, but you can protect your personal information online by following a few strategies.
Why is it important to protect your data online
Data protection seems like a mundane activity, but it can save you from financial ruin and other unfortunate outcomes. Hackers often use victims’ financial information to take out loans, seize assets, and apply for government benefits. Some hackers use victims’ personal IDs to commit illegal activities and hide their true identities in the process. This approach allows hackers to temporarily evade liability and pin the blame on the identity theft victim.
Not all instances of identity theft elevate to those levels. But the risk is always present, and why take that risk in the first place? You don’t have to commit hours of your time each day to protect your personal information online.
7 personal data-protection strategies
It’s your responsibility to keep your personal data safe online. These strategies can help you use online apps and websites while lowering your risk of identity theft.
1. Install anti-virus software on your computer
Anti-virus software monitors your device for incoming viruses and knows how to help block them. This software removes viruses that can delete files and slow down or crash your computer. Anti-virus software counters viruses before they become major threats. You can take your computer to an expert when a virus strikes, but the damage is usually done by that point. It’s easier and less stressful to prevent a virus than it is to respond to a virus.
2. Change your passwords periodically
Companies try their best to keep their customers’ information safe, but data breaches can still happen. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and personal social media information got leaked in large-scale breaches in 2022. You can’t do much about those data breaches because the companies involved left their platforms vulnerable.
Hackers steal information like usernames and passwords during these breaches. If you use the same username and password for all of your online accounts, a hacker can do a lot of damage. For instance, if your Facebook email and password are the same ones you use for your bank account, a savvy hacker can go into your bank account and make unauthorized transactions.
Changing your passwords periodically and making sure you use different passwords on each website will mitigate this risk. Using unique passwords protects you from systematic risks. One password breach won’t give a cybercriminal the keys to all of your online accounts. Changing your password every one to three months reduces the risk to each individual account. If a hacker obtains one of your passwords, periodic password changes can quickly make that information out of date.
3. Update your devices
Software updates may seem like inconveniences. You have to wait several minutes before you can use your device again, and it doesn’t look or function much differently. But updates fix patches and vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit for their personal gain. Updating laptops and smartphones when new software becomes available can protect your personal data from unethical hackers.
4. Use two-factor authentication
If you have received a text message containing a six-digit code or a confirmation link via email, you are using two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication forces you to perform an extra step before logging into your account. This extra step however, is an extra layer of protection which means a hacker will need more than your username and password to access your online accounts. You should enable two-factor authentication for any website that lets you use it.
5. Don’t put too much on social media
Social media lets you connect with family and friends, and some people use these platforms to pursue career opportunities. But if you put too much information on your accounts, hackers could use it against you. If you post about your vacation, it tips criminals off that you aren’t home. Posting details like your location, birthday, and other information can also make you susceptible. Hackers can use this information to apply for loans under your name and for other malicious reasons.
6. Use unconventional answers for security questions
Some websites present security questions that you must answer correctly to access your account, reset a password, or perform a similar task. Hackers can access important information by correctly answering these security questions. Because many of these questions are basic, a hacker may end up finding the answer on your social media profile.
For instance, if the security question asks for your dog’s name, a hacker can go on your social media accounts and look for posts about your dog. Hackers have many routes to obtain information that can help them answer basic security questions, but you can throw them a curveball. Instead of having the security answer be your dog’s name, you can opt for a security answer like “Soccer” or “Apple Tree.” Those two responses aren’t typical names for a dog and are the types of answers a hacker would never guess.
7. Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) protects your online data if you use public Wi-Fi. VPNs use data encryption to prevent others from knowing your internet traffic and mask your IP address. Not even your internet service provider can see what websites you visit online. Internet service providers can sell your information anonymously, so keeping them off your personal history and data can make your information safer.
Data protection is your responsibility
Companies invest considerable money to keep your information safe. Despite their best efforts, some breaches happen, and that is on the companies. The protective measures you take, or the lack of them, impact how much of your data stays safe and how much of it gets stolen. Using the same passwords for everything, relying on public Wi-Fi, and not installing antivirus software make you more vulnerable. It’s important to protect your personal information on the web and take a proactive approach.
How can I protect my personal data?
You can protect your personal data by changing passwords, using a VPN, installing antivirus software, and other tactics.
Is public Wi-Fi safe?
Public Wi-Fi has its risks and may leave your data vulnerable. It’s best to use a VPN while using public Wi-Fi to keep your data safe. Public Wi-Fi with data encryption is safer, but a VPN gives you more protection.
What happens if someone steals my identity?
A hacker who steals your identity may have the ability to take out loans under your name or may perform criminal acts while pretending to be you.