Your Go-To Guide to Online Data Protection

Online security

Being online = being in danger. That said, data protection is vital today.

Today 11% of people who are online have had personal information stolen—credit card numbers, bank account information, or a personal ID number like a driver’s license number or SSN.

Case in point: recently a hacker stole the data of 17 million users—names, email addresses, user IDs, and protected passwords—from a restaurant app, Zomato, and put the details up for sale on the dark web. Similarly, a couple of days ago, the popular Sarahah app for anonymous messaging was caught stealing full contact lists from every user device.

These are the facts. And if the facts don’t scare you—you might not be paying enough attention. Living life online means you should be ready to face the unique challenges present there. With that in mind, we’ve created the ultimate go-to guide to online safety and survival.

This article is regularly updated as new techniques and technology become available.

Customer Data Protection and How to Avoid Data Tracking

86% of users have tried to remove or decrease their digital footprint on the web [1].

The most common “dark side” of being online is personal data tracking.

Data is a new oil. It’s the fuel that propels online commerce and consumption. Adtech companies harvest our personal information by observing as much of our online activity as they can—Facebook likes and shares, Google search history, “heat maps” of websites that track our reading habits, etc. Adtech is specialized in discovering patterns that help them understand what kind of person you are. They then sell these data to advertisers (brands, publishers), and advertisers use it to sell you products.

Nowadays, retailers can easily connect website cookies to home addresses. They can even find out that you’re pregnant before you publicly announce it.

If you’re not OK with that—review our tips on how to avoid third-party data tracking:

  • Сhange the cookie lifespan in your browser to a shorter period.
  • Consider using an ad blocker with built-in anti-tracking feature.
  • Keep your antivirus on and updated.
  • Use consumer opt-out tools, such as those from: The National Advertising Initiative, DAA Ad Choices Opt-Out, Apple Store and Apple News Opt-Out, Google Personalized Ads Opt-Out.

How to Create Secure Passwords for Data Protection

35% of people have weak passwords; the other 65% can be cracked [2].

Passwords are a big (huge, enormous, under-appreciated) part of cybersecurity.

A secure password is the most accessible method of data protection. In our secure password tip guide, we discuss the latest password security guidelines to determine if the slew of mumbo-jumbo letters, numbers, and symbols is actually more secure than your childhood puppy’s second name [Spoiler: not really].

Here are some of the most essential tips from our guide:

  • Use long phrases of real words pulled at random, something memorable but meaningful, like correcthorsebattery.
  • Check your email addresses and passwords against the database of leaked credentials due to data breaches.
  • Use a password manager to store all of your credentials for various sites in one encrypted space.

How to Keep Your Financial Data Safe

11% of users have had personal information stolen like their SSN, credit card, or banking information [1].

We pay bills online, shop online, manage financial accounts online, and donate to charity online. Some time ago, we could do it only via official banking websites. Later PayPal and friends joined the picture. Now you can make payments via Facebook Messenger. However, the ease of doing banking and purchasing online significantly increases chances for your security to be jeopardized.

Before you unknowingly broadcast your credit card number or bank account credentials somewhere online, make sure you’re covering the essentials of data protection:

  • Master the data protection basics—regularly update your passwords, don’t leave your online banking account open in a browser window, and limit the number of apps to which you give your financial data.
  • Look for secure web indicators. Good indicators of secured apps include encryption for all transactions and data, SSAE 16 support, two-factor authentication, and strong password policies.
  • Check bank activity regularly, perhaps weekly, for transactions that aren’t yours. Don’t keep an eye out only for large transactions. Sometimes, some companies scam their own customers by charging unnoticeable small amounts to cards.
  • Sign up for email alerts for transactions. You’ll receive an email alert when your card has been used for a transaction.
  • Maintain a low-balance credit card for online purchases.

How to Protect Your Social Media Privacy and Security

1 in 5 US citizens who regularly use the internet say that they have had their social networks compromised by hackers at least once [1].

Hackers love social networking.

Stealing an identity online is as simple as downloading public images and information from a social profile and setting up shop. Things get hairier if hackers have an email address or birthday. These people pretend to be you in order to gain access to your friend lists and to betray the trust your friends have in you.

With nothing but a bit of misplaced trust and a shortened URLs (commonly used in Twitter), hackers trick you and your friends into visiting harmful websites that infect your computer with malware.

Scarily, things can also become far more personal as potential thieves only need to see your “Going on a vacation!” post with airport geolocation to know that you’re not at home—and won’t be for a while.

So, how can you minimize and prevent breaches of social media security? Here are the basics:

  • Do not add anyone as a contact that you do not know personally.
    Check new contacts’ pages thoroughly for signs that the account is authentic—regular updates, natural-photos, a history of posting, shared friends, etc.
  • Check your security settings on all your social platforms and set viewing access to “friends only” or “only me.”
  • Turn off your geolocation and don’t post about your activities until after you’ve completed them.
  • Turn on timeline review on Facebook, which requires you to approve tags and posts to your timeline. This allows you to remove tags on posts that are publicly visible.
  • Don’t click on links from anyone you do not trust and do not click on any links that appear random or out of context with your relationship with the sender—for example, if your mother sends you a link for amazing deals on mobile apps out of the blue, you should probably ask your mother if her account has been hacked.

How to Protect Your Email Security

1 in 131 emails contained malware in 2016 [4].

“Dear Mr/Ms You,
I’m Gordon Bridges, an expert in corporate and legal claims; I’m a partner at Kernel & Associates. Unfortunately, the second brother of the third step-sister of your grandmother died. But, you’re the only one who can claim a $22B inheritance from him. Just contact me, give me the copies of all your documents, your credit card number as well as some money for services, and you will become the millionaire!”

These kinds of emails are so common, they’ve become a joke. However, every year millions of people risk being scammed or hacked through such campaigns.

In fact, email is the number one delivery vehicle for most malware today.

When it comes to phishing emails designed to steal credentials, researchers found that one in four are targeting Apple IDs. Microsoft Outlook credentials are the second-most targeted, with Google Drive credentials coming in third.

Email data protection best practices for include:

  • Create strong passwords for email accounts.
  • Never open attachments or click on links in email messages from unknown senders.
  • Never send your credit card number or personal document copies to anyone you don’t know or trust. Legitimate organizations, especially your bank, will never request sensitive information via email.
  • Google names or exact wording of the email to check for any references to a scam.
  • Use email spam filters and antivirus software.

How to Choose Powerful Armor for Your Data Protection

86% of people who regularly use the internet are taking active steps to improve their cybersecurity [3].

There are thousands of tools and hundreds of companies offering you life in anonymous heaven.

At a most basic level, security and internet privacy depends on having:

  • antivirus;
  • VPN;
  • secure anonymous browser;
  • secure messenger;
  • an ad blocker.

Our team is currently vetting a list of the most trusted and powerful privacy and data protection tools available. Each recommendation includes valuable details, including what data they protect, what features you should pay attention to, how much you should or shouldn’t spend on it.

Follow our blog and social channels for our upcoming data protection tools update!

Have you ever battled a security threat online? What tips or suggestions do you swear by?

Share your questions, comments, and concerns with us.

[1] PewResearch
[2] Preempt
[3] EY
[4] Symantec