One of the most widely discussed topics in today’s world is the issue of privacy. In a relatively short 25 years, computers have developed from large and expensive luxuries to small and affordable devices that can be owned by the masses. Advancements in technology have also led to the miniaturisation of objects which would previously have been built separately from computers; telephones, clocks and maps are just a few. It’s therefore enabled us to connect with others, consume information and shop from anywhere, however these amenities are accompanied by a high price: the loss of digital privacy.
Nothing is free
When you think about it most of us are guilty of giving away our personal data to global corporations for free. The majority of us use services such as Facebook, Google and Twitter and the deal is simple; they are free to use but your personal data is analysed and often used for advertising purposes/sold to other companies. As the saying goes: nothing is ever completely free! The negative effects of this business model are easy to spot, just check out the targeted adverts around your social media feeds and promotional emails in your spam!
But here’s where it moves past the odd annoying junk email or web advert that really, really wants you to buy that thing you were searching for on Amazon the other week – it can get dangerous for the uninformed among us when data is collected and analysed as part of so-called ‘big data’ processes. In these situations it is possible that computer algorithms can end up determining your life; they can influence your creditworthiness, your job search and even any insurance plans you have. If you take it even further, your personal preferences, hobbies and habits can be derived from things as seemingly simple as your Netflix viewing history and potentially be used in calculations. What’s more, if the data gets into unauthorised hands through a data breach then your identity could potentially be at risk.
So with all this in mind, everyone should take a moment to consider how they can protect their digital privacy. Here’s 6 effective tips to get you started:
1. Don’t be careless
If you are asked for personal data, first think about whether the value of the service corresponds to the information you’d need to disclose. If it’s something relatively small with a finite value (like downloading a report online) and you’re asked for disproportionately intimate questions then try using a fake or old contact address. In general you should be extremely careful with your personal data; the “can I have your email address to send you a copy of your receipt” in a high street shop is one I personally like to avoid!
2. Use alternate emails
Consider using different email addresses for different purposes. For example, different emails for social media accounts, online purchases and professional uses goes a long way to ensure that if the worst should happen you haven’t put all of your eggs in one basket. There are loads of free email providers out there and you don’t need to reveal your complete identity if you don’t want to!
3. Use different devices
For convenience many people tend to use the same computer for all tasks and sometimes use work devices for personal web surfing. This harbors enormous dangers; if hackers hijacked your work computer as a result of personal endeavors the next time you log onto your company network they could steal sensitive company information. Your device could even get infected by ransomware, which asks for large amounts of money in return for your data. It’s much better to avoid the risk and use one device for private surfing with another reserved for the storage of important data or for work use. You could also try using an alternative OS such as Ubuntu, for which viruses are rarely developed for.
4. Keep passwords secure and software updated
Ensure that you are always using secure passwords for important accounts such as online banking or shopping. Keep in mind that criminals will use every weak spot they can find, so make your passwords difficult to crack. The longer the better, but be sure to include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, special characters and numbers. Keep your operating system and installed software programs up to date and invest in the latest antivirus tools.
5. Encrypt and backup
Rather than keeping your important data solely on your main computer, regularly save your information to an external backup drive. Some drives include their own automatic data encryption tools but beware; if the encrypted drive fails it is almost impossible to get the data back, even for data recovery experts. It is much better to encrypt the data using separate software tools and keep the decryption key in a secure location, making sure it’s kept separate from the backup disk itself.
6. Delete what you don’t need
Think of how many devices you currently own and have owned in the past… it probably adds up to a lot of data! If these devices fell into the hands of criminals it can become easy for them to understand everything about you and use this information against you. For this reason you should safely delete data from computers and phones that you’re no longer using. There are a number of secure methods out there but remember that simply pressing delete isn’t one of them.
With these simple tips you’ll be well on your way to protecting your personal information from getting into the wrong hands. No method is completely impenetrable, however at least you will be making life extremely difficult for potential criminals.
As a final point: although this scheme didn’t end up going ahead it’s a stark reminder of what it possible in today’s digital world – it therefore pays to be smart about your privacy online.
How do you protect your digital privacy? Let us know by commenting below, or tweet @DrDataRecovery
Michael Nuncic is Marketing Communications Manager at the German Ontrack Data Recovery office in Böblingen for more than 5 years. Highly experienced in computer, network and software topics, he is a professional editor for blog and technical articles for almost 20 years now.