Are you Digitally Safe? Questions to Ask Yourself

July 8, 2013 | Posted By: Adria Saracino | Categorized in: Technology


If you're like most people, you've got an array of digital devices synced via Bluetooth to even more devices. To be sure, there are many reasons why the age of the digital device has fundamentally shifted how we work and play, most of them good. Hey, I don't know about you, but the less time I can spend looking for that one important sticky note, the better.

But there's one big flaw to the digital lifestyle: Security. The more we enter our data into online apps and sites, the more we put our personal information and finances at risk, yet few of us take even the most basic steps to safeguard our security. Perhaps that's why over 39% of the world's computers are infected with either adware or malware, totaling $114 billion annually. Both personal and corporate hacks alike have been successfully prosecuted only .01% of the timeómeaning once your personal details have been swiped and your bank account emptied, you don't have a lot of recourse.

That's the depressing news. But it's not all doom and gloom. In fact, there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself, and most of them don't even require that much effort. SimpliSafe, a home security system company, created this interactive digital security quiz, which assesses just how secure you actually are. Here, are four of the quiz's crucial questions, explored more in depth.

1. Is my password strong enough?

It may seem obvious that having a strong password is essential for your online safety, but judging from the number of people whose password is "password" or "12345," it may not be. While passwords themselves are an imperfect security measure, there's no reason to roll out the red carpet for hackers with a weak one.

What to do?
  • Diagnose your passwords. Use a password tool to determine just how strong or weak your passwords are.
  • Strengthen them. Strong passwords will use a mix of numbers, letters and symbols, without ever spelling distinct words. And they definitely won't include your name, birthplace or date or social security number!
  • Vary them. If you use the same password across websites, stop. Doing this just provides access to scammers to all of your accounts should they breach one.

2. Is my phone secure?

The more you do on your cell phone, the more contacts and personal information inside, the more risk your phone carries should it be hacked or lost. This is all the more true if you use your phone for both work and personal reasons, as your phone likely will have access to sensitive company information. Think you're safe just because you use an iPhone? Having an Apple device doesn't protect you the way it used to; as the popularity of the brand continues to grow, so, too, do a hacker's motivation for targeting those devices.

What to do?
  • Keep your software up to date. Software makers keep their eyes on evolving security threats, and they're your best bet for staying safe. For similar reasons, don't change the security settings when you first purchase your phone, as the default is generally the strongest setting anyway. Even better, download security software if it's not already installed.
  • Say no to unencrypted wireless network. Scammers love to set up free Wi-Fi so they can steal your info. Stick instead to encrypted networks that require either a WEP or WPA password. Another good bet is to turn off your Wi-FI as you move around public spaces so you don't automatically connect to unknown networks.
  • Ban cookies and autofill. While they make life easier in the short run, they can mean big trouble if you ever get hacked or if your phone gets stolen, as you're basically just handing thieves your most private details. For that matter, if your phone has tracking, keep it on so you can either recover or wipe data as quickly as possible. iPhone users can do this through Find My Phone and Mobile Me, while Android users can do so using Google Apps.
  • Save your most sensitive information for https. Https websites have an extra Secure Socket Layer (SSL), making them the best bet for email and banking. However, an SSL on an unencrypted Wi-Fi network still holds risks, so you'll still want to save your most sensitive browsing for a network you trust.

3. Do I bank online?

Most banks actually do take a number of steps to safeguard your mobile banking security, so the biggest threat to your mobile banking security is again losing your phone. Besides the tips already listed previously (i.e. not saving your password, enabling remote wiping and not banking on public networks), there are several other steps you can take to protect yourself.

What to do?
  • Bank via app. If your small, regional bank offers text message banking, don't take advantage of it. Stick instead to banking apps (take a look at question #4 for tips on how to keep that process safe).
  • Don't stay logged in. You wouldn't leave the key in your front door, would you? Log out, every time.
  • Check your accounts frequently. This is just something you should do in general to make sure there are no unexpected transactions.
  • Ignore phishing texts. They're becoming as frequent on phones as they are through email. Never give anyone your banking information, even if it looks like they're contacting you from your bank.

4. Apps

Apps are convenient and can enrich your experiences, but as app stores grow, so too do opportunities for scammers. This is slightly more true in the Android app store, as developers are given fewer guidelines and less curation, though Apple also has its problems.

What to do?
  • Research. Before you download that app research reviews online to get a sense both of its usefulness and of its security. For banking apps, verify the name of the bank app on their website before officially entering your information.
  • Read permissions. Yes, they may be numerous and lengthy, but if you want to prevent yourself from agreeing to a very bad deal, they're necessary. This can get overwhelming, so a good rule of thumb is thinking mainly about the app's core purpose and determining for yourself whether or not you think a specific permission is necessary. An app like MapMyRun, for instance, which, uh, maps your runs, will definitely need access to your location, while perhaps a book reader app won't.
  • Make good use of your security app. Apps like Lookout and Norton Mobile Security keep an eye on both the apps you already have installed and any new ones. Lookout also provides wiping services.

Takeaway

With so much of our lives lived on our devices these days, it's important to protect yourself. While no solutions are perfect, there are many easy and basic steps you can take do to prevent easy breaches. Take small steps, and soon you'll have upped your security game.


Adria Saracino is a marketer and blogger. When not consulting on business strategy, you can find her writing about style on her personal fashion blog The Emerald Closet.

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