21 useful tips to help you protect your personal information online

25 Jan 2018

How can we shield our privacy in the digital age? Image: By frantsev/Shutterstock

Here are some top tips for taking better care of your personal data.

Held every year on 28 January, Data Protection Day (known as Data Privacy Day outside of Europe) aims to raise awareness of best practices in data privacy and protection. The day was first marked in Europe in 2007, with the US following suit in 2009.

In a world where people are becoming more cognisant of the value of their personal data amid a sea of major breaches, the need to raise awareness has never been stronger.

Data Protection Day raises awareness

This is the final Data Protection Day to come before the GDPR deadline of 25 May, when everything will change for those who deal with data from EU subjects, and the subjects themselves.

The average person will have far more power than before, and along with this will come an increased level of caution and literacy in terms of the value of their data and the danger of it getting into the wrong hands.

Your data and you

  • Encrypt your devices and important data. It may seem like a bit of extra effort at first, but encrypting programs can keep your files safe. Encrypting smartphones is also a straightforward process that can prevent data theft if your device gets lost.
  • Use a chat app such as Signal. It’s free, has strong encryption and works on every mobile platform. The technology the app uses is also open source, so its security has been tested by experts.
  • If you don’t have a PIN code or password on your device, set one up immediately – the longer it is, the better.
  • Log out of apps periodically when you aren’t using them. Security expert Paul Ducklin says this is vital to keep your accounts and device secure.
  • Enable two-factor authentication. While it is by no means a perfect solution, it’s one of the best threat-mitigation tactics the average person can employ.
  • Dig deep into the privacy settings of your social media apps, and customise them. Create custom lists for people to see certain content on Facebook, or remove your account from Google search results.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts. It might seem basic, but many are still not taking this important step. If you can’t keep track, use a password manager such as LastPass.
  • If a company you’re signed up to experiences a data breach, change your passwords immediately.
  • Learn how to recognise (and avoid opening) phishing emails. Look for vague subject lines and email signature mismatches. Don’t click on anything if you are in doubt.
  • Think about using ‘passphrases’ rather than passwords. Father of the modern ‘safe password’ rule Bill Burr says the old way is not as secure as we think.
  • Restore old devices to factory settings before giving them away or lending them to others. You could still be signed in on your email on an old phone.
  • Back up your data, both physically and on a reputable cloud service. If you delete files on your device, ensure any cloud duplicates are also binned.
  • When parting ways with an email newsletter or a service, always check for confirmation that you have fully unsubscribed.
  • Keep your paper data secure, too, and don’t write passwords down on Post-its.
  • Disable Bluetooth when you aren’t using it. Malware attacks such as BlueBorne could have affected devices that use Bluetooth, so it’s best to be cautious.
  • If you are using a health monitoring app or an app with otherwise sensitive information attached, make sure the push notifications don’t publicise private data on your home screen.
  • Opt out of ad tracking to stop seeing personalised ads based on your online activity. Click here for instructions on how to do it with a large number of firms at once. There are also instructions for Google and Facebook.
  • Examine the permissions that apps seek on your devices. Often, you may not want all of the default permissions granted.
  • Be wary of carrying out sensitive transactions on public WiFi. In many cases, cyber-criminals use these connections to steal information.
  • Update all your apps and devices as soon as the newest versions are released. This is a vital step to protect your information.
  • If you’re overwhelmed by all of the accounts you have signed up for in your digital life, try the Data Detox from Tactical Tech.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects