Keep your personal data safe

07 February 2017

South Africans are adept at securing our homes and cars, but, when it comes to personal data, we’re not as diligent. With so much of our lives spent on our phones and online, there has never been a better time to raise awareness about the importance of protecting your data.

And let’s admit it, there are a few people who still use ‘Password1’ as a universal password for everything from a Twitter to cheque account. Oh, and writing your PIN on the back of a debit card? Crisis. It’s time to get savvy and secure your digital life against the threat of data theft.

Protect your passwords

A strong password is often the most effective deterrent against any kind of data theft across devices and apps. Unfortunately, most people are afraid of forgetting convoluted passwords and either opt for something simple or make the mistake of writing their passwords down. However, these are either easy to guess by data thieves or can fall into the wrong hands.

A good way to ensure you don’t compromise the strength of your passwords is through a password keeper app like LastPass. This digital vault for passwords has encryption, multi-factor authentication, integration across devices and even fingerprint access.

Surf suspiciously

Every time you browse the internet, whether from a mobile device, laptop or PC, your activity is being monitored. Research companies are tracking your surfing habits, ad companies are targeting you and hackers are trying to trick you into downloading malware or reavealing your personal information. It’s a jungle out there!

It’s strongly advised to keep a healthy sense of suspicion as you surf the web. Ad blocking software is a good way to avoid those annoying pop-ups and redirects that bombard you on every website you visit. Try AdBlock Plus for a simple and effective ad blocker that works on your browser or smartphone.

When you leave your house, get into the habit of turning off your bluetooth and WiFi receivers on your devices, as these are both channels through which hackers can gain access to your personal data or monitor your activity on your device. It’s also a good idea to turn off your location services unless they are needed, otherwise your phone is constantly tracking your movements throughout the day and such information could be somewhat compromising in the wrong hands. And when surfing on a public WiFi network (not advisable), avoid doing anything sensitive, like online banking.

Be antisocial

No, we don’t mean becoming a hermit, but it might be time to reconsider some of your social media activity.

With everyone and their gran on Facebook these days, it’s easier than ever for data thieves to access your personal information. Posting pics of your Yorkshire Terrier, Scruffy, might be cute, but not if you’ve set your Gmail password to ‘Scruffy123’.

The more personal data you share online, the easier it is for resourceful, hackers and data thieves to create composite profiles of your personal information, which they can then use to guess your passwords, scam you or worse.

You don’t have to delete all your social media accounts, but be cautious and vigilant. Don’t fill out all the personal information on your profile – nobody online needs to know exactly where you live or your mobile number. Make your profiles private so that only your friends can view your information, and don’t ever accept friend requests from strangers.

Never underestimate your opponent

In a world of always-on technology, we are constantly at war with those who wish to steal our data.

If you choose to enjoy the benefits of a personal technology and instant access to the internet, it’s best to be alert to all the dangers. Hackers and data thieves are probably smarter than you and far more proficient in the digital dark arts.

Don’t open suspicious links or click on shiny pop-up ads. Don’t buy into the heartfelt plea of the refugee asking you to wire them funds to escape a farflung warzone – data thieves will play on your empathy to deceive you.

By approaching online activities with care and caution, you can ensure a safe digital life.

Disclaimer: The advice contained on this blog is for general purposes only and does not take into account individual circumstances, objectives or financial needs. Accordingly, readers are advised to seek appropriate advice from licensed professionals prior to making any investment, or taking up a financial product or service.