Thursday, January 26, 2017

Protecting your Information on Data Privacy Day and Every Day

It is important to protect the integrity of your information. From personal items like social security numbers, user logins and passwords to maintaining control over other pieces of information like email, banking, loan and retirement accounts, and so much more. In keeping with Data Privacy Day which is celebrated on January 28th of every year, this post covers some essential ways to protect your information, devices and data during everyday usage.

Protecting your Information on Data Privacy Day & Every Day

User accounts and passwords

Nearly every website you visit now wants you to create a user account. From online banking to email to ordering dog food, it is nearly impossible to spend an hour online without needing some sort of credentials anymore. While much of this is to protect our information or provide secured and authenticated access, it can be quite overwhelming. Each provider has different restrictions on what a secure password entails (numbers, characters, upper and lower case letters, length of password and maximum time before the password expires), which only increases how difficult it can be to stay on top of all of these accounts.

While it can be challenging, be sure to use multiple user id's and passwords for accounts. The more times a user id and password are used, the more places you will have to worry about if you or one of those places is hacked. Using multiple combinations can greatly reduce the impact if something happens. Remember, it doesn't have to be you that is hacked; companies are under attack all the time as the value of information continues to grow.

PIN numbers
Never use banking or other numeric pin numbers as part of the codes to unlock smart phones or as a part of other passwords. This follows the same principle as reusing the same user IDs and passwords. The more common a set of letters or characters is, the more dangerous it is because it makes it easier for someone to gain the information and use it against you.

Consider using something that means nothing to you on your smart phone so even if someone sees you inputting it, they could never use it with anything else that belongs to you.

Lock devices when you leave
It might seem silly to lock a computer each time you walk away to the copy room, bathroom, or simply to ask someone else a question. However, how many times are you interrupted along the way? Do you always come right back as intended each time you get up and walk away? Getting sidetracked along the way likely happens often and cannot be predicted. 

The access you have to documents and information may not be the same for everyone. Locking your display when you walk away can save you time in the long run if the wrong person were to gain access. Locking the display by pressing the Windows key + L on a Windows machine prompts for a password to gain access to the device, yet allows all programs to continue running without interruption. 

Saving passwords and "staying logged in"
It is easy to say, don't do it. Try not to save passwords or stay logged in as much as this is possible. This is especially true if you do not lock your device when walking away. Any time you save your credentials on a website, someone else could potentially open a browser window on that device and have access to email or other accounts. With an email account they can try resetting passwords to other accounts and this behavior can snowball. 

Instead, take the time to log into accounts that have any private information at all. Be especially vigilant with accounts that have saved credit cards!

Restrict access to your most valuable resources - information
This is especially important if you own a business. If you use Quickbooks to track your income and expenses, not every employee needs access to this information. Be sure only necessary people have access and that the access they have is limited to the actions they are performing. It is FAR easier to grant additional access later than recover from a mistake or intentional removal or modification of data.

Sharing passwords
Again, not advised! Sharing a password can be fine, but can also lead to all kinds of issues. Be especially careful giving someone a password that you use with other accounts. If someone has your password they might be able to gain access to accounts you might not want them to. This includes logging into accounts directly or into an email account and:
  • Find places you have ordered from and with this information they might be able to reset a password and possibly access accounts with saved credit cards.
  • Email other people and possibly send them malware acting as you.
  • Learn what banking institutions you use.
  • More!
Changing shared passwords
Advising people not to share their passwords is like telling someone not to do something, it is not that successful. Even though we often understand there is risk associated with a certain action, we cannot help ourselves from specific actions when we think the option makes our lives easier. Sharing passwords with loved ones make sense. Until it doesn't. If you are no longer associated with that person be sure to update all of your accounts as soon as humanly possible to protect yourself.

Keep in mind, adding an ! on the end is not an example of a good change, pick something that would essentially be impossible for them to guess. Most importantly be sure to change the passwords to something you never used before or ever shared with that person! 

We all have information we need to protect, not hide, but protect. Protecting our banking credentials, loan information, proprietary business information and more are important and this can be more challenging in a digital world. Every effort you make to protect yourself, your devices, your information and your livelihood makes a difference. Working to become increasingly informed is key and there are things we can all incorporate into our daily lives that will help prevent frustration later.

As always, stay informed and be safe!

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