When you own something, you want to protect it, right? That’s why you lock your dwelling or car. You take good care of something you value like a new smartphone or new outerwear.

Do you do the same for your personal information or data online? You need to start thinking about it. Your data is more precious than oil or gold in today’s digital world. You need to protect like you would your house or car.


Why is your data such as valuable commodity to criminals and companies alike?


Let us understand what we mean by “data” since it is used quite a lot. It is any information about you in a digital form. It might be where you live, age, sex, race, income, employment, marital status, dependents, credit rating, online searches, medical conditions, political affiliations or how likely you are to buy a particular product. The list goes on and on.

For example, when you sign-up for a social media platform, they require you to tell them your age and sex. That may seem like an insignificant amount of information, but you then start to leave a trail of personal data behind that is mined by marketers to sell you their products. Think about the time you looked up about buying a new coffee maker then all of the sudden ads on Facebook pop up about a coffee maker. Or you search about a personal topic and the same happens.

Criminals find that information helpful to use in social engineering attacks to get even more personally identifiable information like credit card, social security, and passport numbers for identity theft. We store an extraordinary amount of personal information online such as banking, medical, and insurance. Most organizations keep files and such digitally. This opens both individuals and companies open to cyber theft.


How to safeguard your information?


Unlike a lock and key for a door, keeping your data is harder to guard than your house. There are ways you can make it more difficult for the bad guys and marketers to harvest your information.


Here are the top 3 cybersafety tools anyone can use protect their data:


1. VPN

It is a “virtual private network,” which routes all of your internet traffic through a secure server that hides where you’ve browsed–and even where you are located. Choose a paid VPN service. That applies to keep your devices safe by using virus/malware protection. It is good to pay for the service such as Norton or Sophos. The paid versions have added protections.

2. Privacy-Focused Web Browser

Most people use Chrome which is very convenient; however, it is Google’s browser, and it tracks a considerable amount of data about you. To avoid that you can install Brave or better-known browsers such as Apple’s privacy-focused Safari web browser, Opera, and Firefox.

3. Password Manager

Let’s have a truth moment: most use the same password everywhere and share password family or coworkers. And hackers know that. So stop it. Now. Password managers create and save unique, highly complex passwords automatically and fill them in at sites you want to log in at—based on one strong master password or key. Some of the best password managers are LastPass, Dashlane, and 1Password. And in the latest macOS Mojave and iOS 12, Apple has provided a password manager for free of charge. At the least, 2-factor authentication for every important website and service you use, i.e., banking, insurance, and social media platforms.

Companies are doing their part to protect your data. You can feel empowered to be proactive in securing your privacy.


This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on February 22, 2019 and nationally distributed to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.

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