Five Ways to Protect Your Personal Electronic Data

Electronic data breaches have become an unfortunate fact of life and an ever-present threat – as the New York Times put it, you should assume that your personal information has been taken, because cyberattacks happen all the time. According to Norton, cyberattacks occur every 44 seconds and a total of $4.2 billion was lost by internet crime victims in 2020.

Many people don’t take even simple steps that would make it harder for thieves to gain access to banking details, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information. And even those who have been victimized previously find themselves falling into old habits, causing them to be vulnerable to continuing cyber-attacks.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do, quickly and easily, to keep your electronic data more secure. And while a determined and skilled hacker could still find a way in, putting up a few roadblocks might encourage them to move on to an easier target.

Here are five tactics experts recommend to better protect your personal information:

Use a stronger password

People have some truly awful passwords: The worst of 2017, as compiled by password-management company SplashData (using data leaked in various breaches), included “123456,” “qwerty,” “letmein” and the ever-popular “password.” To protect yourself against cyber-attacks, use complex passwords using a combination of special characters, numbers and odd phrases that aren’t easily guessed. Instead of “mike2013,” for example, remember something like “In 2013, Mike broke his leg in Omaha” and translate it into “i13MbhliO!” Password-management software can help, too; these programs generate strong passwords for you and require you to remember just one master password.

Better yet, use multi-factor authentication

Many companies and online service providers offer this feature, which forces you to provide verification beyond a password to sign in. You might be required to enter a code that is sent to your mobile device, or answer security questions. Beware the security questions, however—thanks to publicly available information, including posts on social media, these can be easy to guess. (“What is your favorite food?” is not a great question to use, particularly if your answer is “pizza.”) Make sure your answers are things only you would know. If multi-factor authentication is available, you should use it, especially for sites with your most sensitive information.

Watch out for phishing attempts

We’ve all gotten calls or messages that were clearly scams, such as when the “IRS” calls to say you’re going to be arrested if you don’t immediately make a payment via credit card. But they’re not “clearly” scams to everyone, and if someone happens to send you an email that is plausible because of your present situation, you could be fooled. Unless you’re absolutely sure about the person or company you’re dealing with, don’t give out personal or financial details on the phone or via email. If you have a question about someone’s authenticity, type the organization’s web address into your browser (don’t click links in an email or use an address provided by a caller). Then call or email back using the information on the actual website, or get the correct contact information from your account statement.

Back up (or wipe out) your electronic data

Not only is this important in case your device is stolen, it also can save you in the event of a “ransomware” attack, when someone blocks access to your data unless you pay a fee. Some devices and platforms have a feature that allows you to erase everything remotely if needed, so consider enabling that if available. And remember to always fully wipe old devices before selling or recycling them. Simply deleting files isn’t enough, check with the manufacturer and learn how to completely erase all of your information.

Watch where you go online (and where your electronic data is connected)

If you’re making a purchase online, don’t enter your credit-card information (or other sensitive details) unless the site’s address begins with “https.” And it’s best to avoid entering this type of data when you’re on a public network, especially if it’s unsecured.

Of course, nothing can completely protect you from all risk online. Even the founder of LifeLock, a data-security company, famously had his identity stolen multiple times. (To be fair, he did use his actual Social Security number in an advertising campaign, which in hindsight wasn’t the best move.) But if you use the steps above, you’ll be ahead of most people.

Protecting your home or business with Burke, Bogart & Brownell

Protecting your home or business with insurance is just as important as protecting your electronic data against cyber attacks. Contact Burke, Bogart & Brownell at (561) 392-8888 to discuss options to keep you, your home, or your business protected.

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