How to Protect Your Digital Privacy in the Modern World

Tuesday, November 22, 2016 by Michael Nuncic

There is hardly a topic that is discussed as intensely as the protection of privacy in times of the so-called digital revolution. In a relatively short time - in less than 25 years - the computer has developed from a hard-to-handle luxury object of a few insiders to an electronic device, which has become affordable for almost everybody.  And with the advancing miniaturization of the technology used, previously separate devices - telephones, clocks, tablets - were transformed into truly mobile pocket computers within the last decade. Today, at any time and in any place, you can query information, make referrals, or “go shopping” with a smartphone instead of walking toward the next shopping mall.

However, these new amenities are accompanied by a high price: The loss of digital privacy. At the same time - and this is the amazing thing about it - many people have no problem at all to give their personal data free of charge and to (kind of) sell it to global companies. Facebook, Google, Twitter & Co. offer in fact a barter business: Their “free-of-charge” services for personal data, which can then be sold for advertising purposes to other companies. The negative effects of this business model are already visible; Users can hardly save themselves from advertising emails.

It gets really dangerous for the uninformed customer when data is collected and analyzed as part of the so-called big data.  It’s possible that computer algorithms can determine your life and influence your creditworthiness, your job search and the application process related to it or your health insurance. If you push it to the top, your personal preferences, hobbies and habits can be included in such a calculation. Here, a decent citizen can not only become a credit risk, but a dangerous eccentric. If this merged data gets into unauthorized hands (e.g. criminals, blackmail) crimes can happen without you being able to understand exactly how it happened.

Tips for Maintaining Digital Privacy

Don’t be careless with your personal data.

If you are asked for personal data, first think about yourself and consider whether the value of the offered service corresponds to the information offered by you.  If it’s an offer that offers a relatively small, one-time-only value for you (e.g. downloading of an information brochure and you are asked disproportionately intimate questions) just take an old or fake contact address. In general, you should be extremely economical with your important personal data.

Protect your privacy without compromise.

You should create and use different email addresses depending on the platform - social media, shopping, information and professional purposes.  There are a variety of free email providers where you do not need to reveal the whole truth, either.

If you want to protect yourself properly, use different devices for different tasks.

Many people use the same computer for all tasks out of convenience. It even goes so far that some use their office laptop for web surfing at home. This harbors enormous dangers, because hackers can hijack the computer and the next time you log into the company network they steal sensitive information and data - or more frequently now - using ransomware and calling for large amounts of money. It’s better to use a device exclusively for private surfing, while using a different device for storage of important data or for working. In addition, it can be useful to use an alternative and open source OS such as Ubuntu or FreeBSD or similar for surfing or connection to the Internet. This is useful because for these operating systems virus or ransomware are rarely developed for.

Protect yourself and your computer with secure passwords and security software.

Ensure that you are always using secure passwords for important accounts, such as online banking or online purchasing.  Assume that criminals use every weak spot to get to your bank account and clear it. The longer the password, the better. In addition, it should consist of a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters and should not be easy to guess.  In addition, keep your computer operating system and your browser up-to-date and use the latest security and antivirus software so that no one gets access by using existing security leaks.

Protect your most important data through software encryption and external backups.

Do not store your most important data on your regularly used device, but instead, store your data externally on a backup disk. Some backup disks offer automatic encryption from the manufacturer. Here caution is advised: No hard drive lives forever and access to that data after a failure is almost impossible for experienced data recovery experts. It’s better to encrypt the data using software and to secure the appropriate key at a different location. Then you can store the backup disk at a suitable location.

Don’t become a data hoarder and delete any unnecessary data.

Every year, many electronic devices are used in a normal household, on which personal data are permanently stored, so it’s not uncommon that a garage becomes full with old PCs, laptops or notebooks. If this garage or storage room is then to be cleared, then likely no data erasure, or an inadequate data erasure, is performed.  Similar to using company information, it’s possible to filter out a clear picture of lives and habits from private individuals by collecting as much information as possible, which can then be analyzed and used by criminals. For this reason, you should safely delete data from computers that are no longer used.  For a more comprehensive solution, professional software from  Blancco can securely and permanently erase data from computers, mobile phones or tablets, giving you peace of mind.

Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to prevent your personal digital information from getting into  the hands of unauthorized persons, but with these simple and easy-to-implement tips, you’ve just made “work” much more difficult for criminals.