You have probably heard about the most recent technology security problem. The personal data of 6 million Verizon customers were leaked online. Verizon said that the problem was the result of a misconfigured security setting on a cloud server. The error made available online the names, phone numbers and PIN codes of customers.
Unless you work for Verizon in some capacity, you likely don’t have much control over how well they secure their data. You do have control over securing your own personal devices and data. Here are a few steps to consider.
OPERATING SYSTEM UPDATE
It does not matter if you use a Windows, Mac, Android or iPhone device, the company that produces each operating system (OS) updates their software to make them more reliable and secure. Too often hackers take advantage of an old security hole that companies sent out an update\fix for several months ago. The hackers are successful because people don’t update their OS. Make sure your OS is up to date.
If your files are important to you, back them up on a regular basis. I had a Sandisk Cruzer USB drive that contained every file from my PC. I accidentally washed and dried the flash drive twice. I was not worried. I lost the flash drive once. I was not worried. Why? I had a backup of everything on the flash drive in two different places. Also, every file on the flash drive was encrypted so no one could read the files.
New viruses are created daily. Some people still have the image of a virus creator as a pimply faced teen down in his parents’ basement. They still exist, but more and more, viruses are created by organized criminals that have formed a business. One type of virus they use is called Ransomware. If infected, your computer and files are locked (encrypted). The only person with the key is the bad guy. He will sell you the key so you can unlock your own files. Typically, the price starts at $300. Protect yourself. Use a good antivirus program and keep it updated. Avast has worked well for me over the years.
If you have files you don’t want people to see, encrypt them. Encryption scrambles your files making them unreadable. You can only unscramble and read the files if you have the correct key.
I know you have too many passwords to remember. Unfortunately, a password is often the only thing standing between a hacker and your data or account. Instead of trying remember complex, but hard to remember passwords like C$1*a9YYte#, think about using a passphrase instead. Here is a link to an article where I talked about how to create a strong base password that is easy to remember.
With any website or app ALWAYS use two-factor authentication when possible. If a hacker happens to get your password, he still will not be able to login to your account or device. Here is a video that explains how two-factor authentication works.
If you are concerned about people reading messages you send with apps like WhatsApp or iMessage that leaves your conversations stored on servers in the cloud, you may want to look at Signal and other apps like it.
NOTE: Nothing is 100%. Depending on who wants to read what you sent, it can probably be done.
I am sure you know never to use a public Wi-Fi connection to send personal information. For example, it is not a good idea to be at Starbucks and doing business with your bank online. You may think you are connected to Starbuck’s Wi-Fi, but you could be connected to a nearby hacker’s wireless access point.
Some people hate using public Wi-Fi even when connecting just to browse news websites. For those type of people, using a VPN will be helpful. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts the traffic from your computer to the VPN service. No one in the coffee shop or even your ISP can see what you sent from your computer.
To hide their web activity, some people use the incognito feature of Google Chrome or private browsing feature of Firefox. To take it a step further, use the TOR browser. TOR stands for The Onion Router. Just like there are many layers to an onion, the TOR browser routes your Internet traffic through various servers in such a way that your ISP does not know who you are. Also, there is no history of the sites that you visited or your physical location.
It takes a little work to protect yourself, but over time you get used to it and it is worth it.