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Top 15 Tips for Securing Your Personal Information

When it comes to cybersecurity, one of the most common responses is to simply tune out. After all, if you’re not harboring top secret information or the owner of a multi-million dollar bank account, no one would be interested in your personal information, right? Unfortunately, this simply isn’t true. According to a recent survey from Pew Research Center, 96% of Americans own a smartphone, and three-fourths of adults, own multiple devices that are connected to the internet. This might not seem like a big deal, but consider the ways you use your smartphone and other devices. Many smartphone users shop online, pay bills online, and some sites even require the use of your social security number. Therefore, it’s critical you stay vigilant in securing your personal information. 

While your smartphone may be the device you use the most, you likely have other devices you use at home and in your workplace as well. Your habits in those places don’t only affect your personal information, they affect everyone who uses the network. For most hackers, the way into a network is the weakest link. That means your lax security habits in one area could give cybercriminals access to other information on your device or network. Taking steps to build good habits to protect your personal information will serve as a practice to increase your cybersecurity awareness and potential threat risks on any device. 

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Who Needs to Employ Safer Practices for Securing Personal Information? 

The short answer is, everyone does. If you’re not already doing everything you can to keep your personal information secure on every device you use, your personal information could be at risk. It’s easy to take advantage of the convenience of technology and skip over essential security steps or cut corners to quickly get to the apps and websites you love. Sadly, the actions that create shortcuts for you also create shortcuts for hackers trying to use your personal information for malicious reasons. 

Where to Use Healthy Cybersecurity Habits 

It’s common for internet users to assume there’s no need to be concerned about cybersecurity measures unless you’re using a public device. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All too often, cybercriminals who attack major networks aren’t anywhere near the organizations they target. Instead, attacks are carried out remotely with the use of a personal device. If malicious attackers can breach government agencies and major organizations with professional security systems in place, your network at home or work won’t likely pose a challenge. Every step you take to secure your information makes you less likely to become a target. You should observe healthy cybersecurity practices in these areas. 

  • Public Places: Mobile devices have enhanced every shopping experience by creating an atmosphere of convenience where consumers know exactly what they want and how to get it quickly. This often means accessing the internet while in the store or other public places before you make a purchase. While free public Wi-Fi may be convenient, it typically has few security features in place to protect you from hackers.
  • Work: Your workplace likely has policies in place that dictate security policies online. Unfortunately, many employees use shortcuts, weak passwords, and the use of company devices for private use. No matter how you access the internet (or what you use it for) at work, it’s essential to use proper security protocol. After all, you could be the back door that provides an attacker with access to the network of the entire company. 
  • Home: Although you likely have a secure network with a password in place at home, it doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. A wealth of scams are targeted at general internet users on personal devices. Maintaining healthy security practices can help you avoid becoming a victim. 
  • Anywhere You Go Online: Whether you’re using public Wi-Fi or a network with high-level security clearance, your habits affect the entire network and keep your personal information safe. Maintaining healthy cybersecurity practices on every network and device is the only way to ensure you’re keeping your personal information safe. 

15 Tips for Securing Personal Information on any Device

All the tips and standard practices recommended for securing information online are advice every internet user should use every time you access the internet. It’s easy to think the rules are designed for top-secret information, high-tech companies, and major corporations responsible for handling the information of thousands of customers. However, the majority of threat actors don’t prey on major companies and government agencies. Instead, they search for easier targets who skip the security steps that keep sensitive information secure. If you’re completely new to cybersecurity and the actions of keeping your personal information secure, it’s time to start from the beginning with standard tips. Use these tips to keep your personal information safe. 

1) Remember that You Are a Target 

Even if you don’t have a large bank account or a long customer list, your information is important to someone. Hackers don’t need to breach every system they target. They only need to access the ones that provide the path of least resistance. This tactic works for breaches of major systems and personal identity theft. Instead of making your network easily accessible, your job is to make it more secure, so attackers will move on. 

2) Follow the Password Rules

It can seem like a hassle when every website you enjoy requires a different password. Let’s face it, you’ll quickly type something in and forget it in five minutes. Of course, that means a forgotten password search in the future, which is even more of a hassle. Your other option is to quickly plug in the stand-by option you use for every website and app on your device. Use these tips to make the most out of the security your passwords are designed to provide.

  • Create strong passwords that use a variety of characters, numbers, and letters, instead of complete, recognizable words. 
  • Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. 
  • Avoid using credentials from social media, email, or another account to sign in to other sites. 
  • Use a password manager. 
  • Use two-factor identification when possible. 

3) Beware of Common Scams 

Texts and emails that target you aren’t necessarily from someone you know. They’re often scammers attempting to access your personal information or to gain access to the entire network you’re using. Phishing scams can be carried out by phone, email, text, and social networking sites. When you get a notice from any of your accounts, avoid clicking on provided links, and instead, access your account through your browser to verify the information. 

4) Stop Ignoring Updates 

Software updates aren’t useless suggestions designed to waste your time. Updating your device and the apps you use will provide you with the most up-to-date security features available. Often, software updates are designed to target existing threats and install security patches. To make sure your device is always up to date, turn on automatic updates for your operating system. Additionally, it’s a good idea to use browsers like Chrome and Firefox that receive frequent, automatic updates and keep add-ons updated as well. 

5) Don’t Overshare on Social Media 

All too often, social media platforms can seem like a private conversation between friends. While you’re not likely sharing pictures of your driver’s license or credit cards, you may be accidentally sharing more information than you think. Identity thieves can use personal details from social media to answer personal security questions, find your location, and even get your birth date or the birth dates of your children. 

6) Think Before You Click 

Trusted websites exist for a reason. Websites that provide expensive goods or services for cheap or free are often hiding malicious software that can compromise your device. Never download software from untrusted or unknown sources. Avoid opening attachments you aren’t expecting, and avoid links unless you know who provided them and why.

7) Never Leave Devices Unattended 

Leaving your devices physically unprotected means leaving your personal information vulnerable. Walking away from a device while it’s in use could potentially provide complete access to all the information within the device to any passer-by who happens to attempt. If you must walk away from your device, even for a few minutes, lock it up, so it can’t be used in your absence. 

8) Use Antivirus/Anti-malware Software 

You don’t have to do all the work yourself. Many trusted companies provide security features designed to protect your information across all the devices you use. When installing anti-virus software, be sure to download the application from a trusted source. Always keep your anti-virus software updated to ensure you have the most up-to-date security possible. 

9) Back-Up Your Data 

Even with your best security efforts in place, you could still become a victim of a security breach. If this occurs, the only way to repair your computer is to erase and reinstall the system. If you have a recent back-up, you can be up and running with the most recent updates and all your information just the way you left it. 

10) Encrypt Your Data 

Online transactions are incredibly convenient and provide you with a way to purchase items you might not otherwise have local access to. They also could potentially expose your sensitive financial and personal information to cybercriminals looking to make a profit. Data encryption scrambles the information you send over the internet, making it difficult or impossible for others to decipher. A lock icon on the status bar of your browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Check for the lock before you send secure information.

11) Use Safe Mobile Device Practices 

Your mobile device is a convenient tool that helps you achieve a variety of daily tasks. It can also be a pathway to your personal information. If you use it to access work or other organizational information, your device can also be a back door to entire networks of information. Always observe these safety practices when using mobile devices. 

  • Only install apps from trusted sources. 
  • Update your device each time updates become available. 
  • Lock your device with a pin or passcode. 
  • Don’t click on links from unknown sources.
  • Check your device’s instructions for steps on how to employ data encryption. 

12) Use Free Wi-Fi Cautiously 

Online shopping is a great way to pass the time when you’re waiting for an appointment, or on your lunch break. While it seems like a good way to multitask, you should keep your online shopping habits to window shopping when using public Wi-Fi. Most free, public Wi-Fi connections have few security measures in place. This makes it easy for customers to access a network, but it also makes it easy for cybercriminals to gain access to the data of other users. Without the right security measures in place, other users on the same network can access your activity. Feel free to like, favorite, and put items in your shopping cart, but wait until you can use a secure, password-protected network to use your credit or debit card. 

13) Stick to Secure Websites 

When you want to access a website, it can be tempting to bypass the security warnings and browse or shop with abandon. Even worse, it’s easy to access many non-secure sites without even getting a warning. Just like software updates, browsers are continually making advancements to keep information safe online. Always use websites with the “https” prefix and those that include the lock icon that signifies it’s secure. 

14) Set Firm Privacy Settings 

When’s the last time you checked your privacy settings on your email and social media accounts? If you haven’t checked the settings of your accounts since you opened the account, you’re not alone. It also probably means you don’t know how much of your information is available to anyone who wants to see it or steal it. 

The privacy policies of shopping apps, social media platforms, and email services change frequently. If you take the time to comb through the terms of service to understand these changes, you’re likely in the minority. Update your settings to avoid sharing information with websites or apps connected with your social media accounts. Maintaining control over your settings can help you avoid companies that sell your data or browsing history and leave you with little control over your online presence. 

15) Close Out Old Accounts 

The internet provides you with the convenient access of having practically anything you want and need, right at your fingertips. As your tastes change, you can simply move on to something new. While you may never visit them, your old accounts still exist and your data is still stored right where you left it. This means if a company you never use experiences a breach, your information could be at risk.

If you decide to use a password manager to keep up with all the strong, new passwords you’ve created, you can also use it to weed out your old accounts. Review your password manager or notes once a year to eliminate accounts you no longer use. Instead of simply eliminating the account details from your database, visit the site and close your account. 

Keeping All Your Personal Information Secure While it may seem like you use the internet for everything, it’s not the only place you use sensitive personal information. When you have so many things to accomplish in one day, rattling off personal information can seem like relaying a grocery list and easily be forgotten. Still, certain precautions must be taken when you’re online and when you’re using any other form of communication as well. Keeping all your personal information secure, requires vigilant habits in all areas of your life. 

Keeping Your Personal Information Secure Offline 

Before the age of the internet your personal information was confined to paper documents that were either stored in your home or certain organizations. While we don’t use them quite as often, these documents still exist, and it’s still your responsibility to protect them. Additionally, you share personal information in a variety of ways with practically every organization you interact with. Use these tips to keep your personal information secure offline. 

  • Lock your financial and personal documents in a safe place in your home.
  • Limit the information you keep on your person when you go out in public.
  • Always leave your social security card in a safe place at home.
  • Avoid carrying cards you don’t use frequently. 
  • Shred all sensitive documents you don’t need to keep. This may include receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, and expired charge cards. 
  • Destroy the labels on your prescription bottles before you dispose of them.
  • When asked to share information at your place of work or your child’s school, a business, or doctor’s office, ask questions about why it’s needed and how it will be protected. 
  • Don’t share your health plan information with companies promising free products or services. 
  • Protect your paper mail by taking outgoing mail to the post office, collecting incoming mail daily, and requesting a vacation hold on mail when you’re not home.
  • Consider opting out of mail offers for credit and insurance opportunities. These documents can easily be stolen and used to access your personal information from a company where you already have an established account. 

Keeping Your Social Security Number Secure

Your social security number is a major key that hackers use to steal your identity. Using your social security number as a means of identification should always be a last resort, especially in remote transactions. Never provide your social security number to someone who contacts you directly by phone, email, text, or any other means. When you must use your social security number or that of your child, ask the following questions. 

  • Why do you need a social security number instead of other means of identification?
  • How will you protect the information? 
  • How will it be used? 
  • What happens if I don’t provide a social security number? 

Securing Devices to Protect Your Personal Information 

All devices are equipped with optional security measures to keep your information protected. In addition to using healthy cybersecurity practices, utilizing the safety features built into your device can help you avoid leaking your personal information. When you get a new device, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the product and the ways you can use it to protect your personal information. Use these tips to take advantage of the built-in security features included in your device. 

  • Read the privacy policy. It’s a long, complicated document, but it will explain how your device shares your information across installed apps and the websites you use online. Take note of ways you can use the settings to increase your privacy. 
  • Lock up your device. Automatic login options are a convenient way for you to access the information on your favorite device. They also make it convenient for anyone else wishing to access your information. Use a strong password to unlock your device and a two-step verification process when it’s available. Always lock your device when it’s not in use. 
  • Use security software. Many devices come with some type of security software installed. Make it your business to learn how effective the included security package is and how it compares to other security options. If necessary, install additional security software for complete protection. 
  • Before you dispose of any type of computer or smartphone, get rid of all the personal information it holds. Check the owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website to learn how to completely wipe your information from the hard drive of the device.

Your personal information is only as secure as you choose to make it. If you’ve never taken steps to secure your personal information, the process can seem overwhelming. Instead of procrastinating, take care of each step to build habits that will quickly become the only process you use. To learn more about the importance of cybersecurity and how you can help keep online information safe, contact the security experts at BitLyft Cybersecurity.

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Jason Miller

Jason Miller, Founder and CEO of BitLyft Cybersecurity, has dedicated his 20-year IT career, including co-founding SaaS pioneer Reviora, to removing cybersecurity barriers for mid-sized enterprises. Establishing BitLyft in 2016, Jason set out to unburden security teams with innovative, approachable, and affordable solutions, a vision which has made BitLyft a respected managed detection and response provider. Outside his cybersecurity pursuits, Jason is an avid tree farmer and outdoor enthusiast, planting nearly 300 trees on his ten-acre plot and finding joy in hiking, hunting, and driving his white Tesla Model 3. His diverse passions mirror the balanced blend of expertise, dedication, and joy he brings to BitLyft.

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