Wednesday, April 16, 2014

5 Everyday Protection Tips to Consider when Using Technology

With people's data integrity and identity consistently being threatened, it is important to take steps to protect yourself.  Regardless of if you stay informed of the most recent data risks or not, your personal data and identity will continually be tested by strangers in devious and resourceful ways.  There are certainly times when our data is put at risk by things out of our control.  However, there are also ways to reduce the level of our exposure.  Listed below are five helpful tips for protecting your identity and private information: 

Avoid Remember Me Settings
Each time you log into an account and select to have your user id and password saved, you are potentially putting that account at risk.  If you walk away from your computer without locking the screen, anyone in the vicinity can easily gain access to your documents and email while you are away.  In "The Most Important Keyboard Shortcut you Might Not Know About" post, the shortcut for quickly locking your display, without closing any of your running programs, is explained along with the reasons why this is an important step in protecting your data.

Even when you are the only user on your computer, laptop, or tablet device, and consistently lock your display, there will almost always be a legitimate reason for giving someone else access to your device.  The following example is a true story of such an instance.  At a technology conference years ago, the presenter of a certain session was having issues with his laptop.  No matter what he tried he could not get his laptop to connect to the wireless network provided for the conference.  Frustrated and out of options, the presenter asked if anyone would let him borrow their laptop for the session.  Turns out he had not saved his presentation on his laptop and was trying to access his files at his business.  Much to the relief of the presenter, one woman in the audience was kind enough to loan him the laptop she had been using to take notes during sessions.   The presenter quickly connected the woman's laptop to the projector and opened a web browser.  As soon as the web browser opened, the woman's email opened up and everyone in the room could see the sender, subject, and first line of every single email in her inbox.  Luckily the presenter was able to switch to a different web page quickly, but not before everyone in the room saw parts of her email. The woman who owned the laptop blushed a bit as most people in the room laughed a little at the situation.  Even though she was normally the only one using the laptop, and it seemed safe to set her browser home page to her email and save her credentials, there is always still an inherent risk in doing this.    Depending upon what business you are in and what is in your email, this could have been a devastating mistake.

Vacations and Social Media
As much fun as vacations are, coming home and finding your house had been broken into would not be fun.  When you are on vacation, uploading photos of you, your family, and your friends on vacation to social media sites can put you and them at risk.  Even though you may know every single one of your "connections" on social media, you may not know all of the people connected to the people you know and so on.  Depending upon how your security is set up, and how your friends' security is set up, you may or may not have any idea how many people are seeing that you are miles from home for six fun filled vacation days.  Finding out you and the family are gone, and will not be home for days, can put the right information into the hands of the wrong type of person.

Obviously you cannot control your neighbors realizing you are gone, but you can control how many other people know.  As hard as it may be, refrain from posting up vacation plans, itineraries, destinations, dates, and photos while you are gone.  Instead, wait until you are home from vacation to blast out all the wonderful pictures you took and places you went.  Be sure to use language that makes it clear you are back home when you upload your information.  Keeping travel plans private until after you are back home is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself.  Even if you have a house sitter, you could be putting them at risk.

Photos with too much information
Now that everyone has a camera in hand at all times by way of cell phones, it is easier than ever to capture the moments that once escaped us.  Whether it is a precious moment, a courageous act, or fun times with friends, we often give away more than we realize in our photos.  Do you know what is lurking in the background of your photos before you email them or post them to social media sites?  Just because you were focused on your dog when you took the photo does not mean that is what everyone else is also seeing.  For instance, if you had mail sitting in the background someone might be able to zoom in and find your home address.  Additionally a simple picture near your computer might reveal a user id or password in the background.  Once this happens, anyone looking at the photo might see this information.  While it seems harmless, it is important to remember to check photos before uploading them to be sure you are not sharing more information than you think you are.

Use Unique Passwords
Choosing passwords that are easy to remember is important.  If you choose passwords that are too complicated you might end up frustrated because you are often locked out of your accounts, or you will be tempted to write down your passwords.  Neither of these are viable options.  However, choosing passwords that will not be guessed easily is equally important.  In an effort to keep your passwords from being obvious, try not to choose passwords based on names of loved ones, dates of anniversaries and other commonly known events, or favorite items.  Favorite items are less commonly discussed but is listed here because using this category for a password can be as dangerous as using your anniversary.  For instance, if you are a huge fan of a certain sports figure, a particular author, a pet, or an activity, then using a password with these words will be obvious to anyone paying attention which puts you at risk.  Instead, try to use passwords that are not related to anything in particular or are somewhat nonsensical.  For more information on choosing strong passwords, read our "How to Create Effective Passwords" post.

Update your Software
No matter how many devices you own it is important to run the software updates as they are available.  This includes app updates on your phones, book readers and tablets, app updates on smart televisions, and software on computers and laptops.   Software updates include new features, as well as fixes for security issues.  No matter what the security issue is, if it puts your data at risk, it is something you want to avoid.  Regularly updating the software on all of your devices will reduce your risk and is worth the time to protect yourself.

Whether you think you have anything worthy of trying to gain access to or not, people trying to gain access to other people's data often have things in mind we might never consider important or valuable.  The steps listed above will quickly become second nature if given a little effort.  Ultimately, the amount of time it takes to follow these steps is minimal compared to dealing with a data breach or identity theft.

As always, stay safe!

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