There’s no denying that the digitalization of data has opened up many windows of opportunity for users everywhere. With just a few clicks, we have the power to do things like deposit checks without having to step foot in a bank or access a variety of media content thanks to our smart TVs. But these luxuries come with a few strings attached. As we effortlessly move data from device to device and network to network, both businesses and individuals can easily collect and analyze our data for a variety of purposes. We may not realize it initially, but as we enjoy the convenience of accessing our data over the World Wide Web, we consequentially cultivate a greater digital footprint that could potentially be exploited by cybercriminals.
This information accumulated throughout your life is part of your data lake. From the moment you are born, these drops of information begin to coalesce as soon as you acquire an online presence and start using connected devices. For example, a child’s parents share a Facebook photo of their newborn baby, technically beginning their connected journey in the earliest stage of life. By age three, that same child begins playing games on their parent’s smartphone or tablet. When the child enters its teenage years, they create their own online accounts. As time goes on, these online interactions continue to fill their data lake. And the more data they share online, the more they open themselves up to having their information potentially exposed by malicious hackers.
This all begs the question — as the digital landscape continues to evolve throughout our lives, how do we ensure that we own, secure and protect our digital data to the best of our abilities? We can start by really thinking about what it means to be cybersmart as we navigate the continually evolving digital landscape, especially as we undergo National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM). Under the leadership of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), we can all ensure that we are doing everything possible to make the internet a safer place.
So, what actions can users take to help safeguard their data throughout NCSAM and beyond? Arm yourself with these cybersecurity tips to stay protected while connected:
- Use multi-factor authentication. Add an extra layer of defense to your online accounts by utilizing two-factor or multi-factor authentication. Enable multi-factor authentication by using a trusted mobile device, an authenticator app or a secure token to prevent cybercriminals from accessing your accounts even if they guess your password.
- Use a VPN when connecting to public networks. Many cybercriminals target public Wi-Fi networks in the hopes of intercepting users’ data. If you find yourself needing to connect to a public network, use a virtual private network (VPN) to keep your connection secure.
- Keep tabs on your apps. Enable automatic app updates on your devices. This will guarantee that you always have the latest security patches when available. Be sure to only keep apps that you actively use on your device, as some apps could suspiciously be running programs in the background or using default permissions without your knowledge.
- Avoid oversharing. Although it might be tempting to share personal details on social media, this makes it easier for cybercriminals to exploit your data. Avoid posting information like phone numbers, addresses, school and work locations and other sensitive details that could lead to fraudulent activity.
- Beware of phishing scams. Watch out for the common characteristics of phishing attacks. If you receive an email or message from an unknown sender, if there are spelling or grammatical errors in the body of the message or if the message contains links with suspicious URLs, avoid interacting with the message altogether.
- Practice good password hygiene. Your password is your first line of defense, so make sure it’s strong. Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Try using a unique password for every one of your accounts or employ a password manager.