Having a productive and safe online digital life is important to get the most from online experiences. Whether you love to shop, seek out new information, or keep in touch with friends on social media, protecting your private information from viruses, spyware, and hackers in the digital age should be a top priority. It’s hard to go a few days of scanning the news without hearing about a major data breach, potentially exposing millions of customers’ personal data to criminals. So, here are a few tips to ensure your personal information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

Create strong passwords

When creating a password, think beyond words or numbers that a cybercriminal could easily figure out, like your birthday. Choose combinations of lower and upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols and change them periodically. It’s also better to create a unique password instead of using the same password across multiple sites (you can use password management tools to help you keep track

Be wise when using social media

We all have that one friend who posts too many intimate details of their life online. Not only can this be annoying, but it can also put your personal information at risk. Check your privacy settings so you are aware of who’s seeing your posts, and be cautious when posting your location, hometown, birthday, or other personal details. If you are a private person, you can start by switching your account from a public account to a private account.

Here are some other tips you might want to follow:

  • Reduce personal sharing
  • Change privacy from public to private
  • Read privacy term and conditions
  • Stop social media apps access to location
  • Research how social media platforms use personal data

Ask yourself questions before you share private/sensitive information

The decision to share is yours. A business may not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide some private or sensitive information. Sometimes you will have to share them with the company. But before you do that, you need to ask yourself these questions first:

  • why they need it
  • how it will be used
  • how they will protect it
  • what happens if you don’t share the information

Use free Wi-Fi with caution

A little online shopping never hurt anyone…or did it? Most free public Wi-Fi networks have very few security measures in place, which means others using the same network could easily access your activity. You should wait until you’re at home or on a secure, password-protected network before whipping out that credit card.

Be alert to impersonators

Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends an email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.

Watch out for links and attachments on the phishing email

Cybercriminals are sneaky, and will often compose their phishing scams to look like legitimate communications from a bank, utility company, or other corporate entity. Certain things like spelling errors or a different email address than the typical sender can be a clue that the email is spam or phishing email.

Keep all software up-to-date with the latest updates and patches

By keeping your software up-to-date, potential vulnerabilities (including zero-days) can be patched and help keep cybercriminals and hackers at bay.

Check if the website is secure

Before entering personal information into a website, take a look at the top of your browser. If there is a lock symbol and the URL begins with “HTTPS,” that means the site is secure. There are a few other ways to determine if the site is trustworthy, such as a website privacy policy, contact information, or a “verified secure” seal.

Encrypt your data for online transactions

To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles the information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. So, look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.

Safely dispose of personal Information

Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. And before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.

Lock up your laptop

Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it will be harder for a thief to get at your personal information.

Read privacy policies

Yes, they can be long and complex, but they tell you how the site maintains accuracy, access, security, and control of the personal information it collects; how it uses the information, and whether it provides information to third parties. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

Think twice before accepting any cookies from any website

Cookies are small text files like regular cookies and they reside on your PC. But they are specifically created and placed by websites to track your web activity and show you customized ads that are aligned with your interests. And that’s a privacy concern. However, you can manage cookies in several ways to help protect your privacy online. You can enable cookies, disable them, or clear them as per your preference. You can get rid of the cookies that are stored in the ‘Cookie’ folder of your browser. But of course, every browser will have different steps to delete cookies.

Limit some access for some application

When you install new apps on your phone, make sure when they ask permission, you don’t just accept all of them. You might need to set back and think if this application really needs to have permission to access your file, your photos, your microphone, your location, or your camera. If it’s only games apps, it should ask to access those files and folders in the first place.

Delete your account and uninstall some application that you no longer use

If you know that an app you want to delete features an account, you’ll want to make sure that it’s gone before you proceed to uninstall. Yes, deleting the application is necessary before uninstall and delete the app from your PC or smartphone. By leaving an account for an app you’re not using online, you’re leaving that data up in the air for hackers to access if they attack that platform. That’s why it’s best not to give them a chance in the first place.

Back-up your data

If your computer is infected by ransomware, malware or it crashes, the only way to definitely ensure that you will be able to retrieve your lost data is by backing it up and doing so on a regular basis. This also means that if you mislay data or accidentally delete something, it can always be recovered.

Avoid Google, Facebook, and WhatsApp (if necessary)

First, you need to know that Google’s changes to its privacy policy on 1st March  2012, enabled the company to share data across a wide variety of services. These embedded services include millions of third-party websites that use Adsense and Analytics.

Apart from Google, Facebook is probably the only company that possesses this high level of detailed customer information. The more users who use Facebook, the more information they amass. And they use your data to show you relevant ads (which is the way how the platform making money anyway in the first place).

As for WhatsApp, which is part of Facebook, the messaging platform recently updated its privacy policy and terms and services which users earlier had to accept by February 8, 2021, and the deadline has now been extended to May 15, 2021. Going by the latest privacy policy, WhatsApp continues to be a secure messaging platform for conversations happening between individuals and groups. All chats are end-to-end encrypted as claimed by the platform itself. However, you should be careful in conversing with business accounts.

Consider additional protection

Install anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. Protect against intrusions and infections that can compromise your computer files or passwords by installing security patches for your operating system and other software programs. For additional protection, you may want to consider cyber insurance, which can keep you and your family safe if you fall victim to a cyberattack.

Keep these tips and suggestions in mind as you enjoy the best parts of the digital world and know your devices and the information on them are safe from threats. The best way to get ahead of the bad things online is to participate in your own Internet security. Educate your family about the threats out there and use trusted security software to help secure what matters. When more of us stay protected together, attackers will have fewer targets to take advantage of.