How to protect your private electronic data
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
In today’s world privacy is a major concern for a number of reasons.
Whether you own a business and host sensitive customer information or are concerned about your own personal data such as your electronically stored social security number, credit cards, or banking information being compromised, this article presents some best practices you can implement to protect your private data.
While this article will not touch on EVERYTHING that can be implemented to protect your data, the average user can benefit from knowing how to make these best practices work together to secure their important and private information.
In this article we will discuss the benefits and best practices for creating strong passwords, the importance of screen locking, when and why to use privacy filters, how backups protect your data, and the value of drive encryption.
Let’s first delve into the amazing world of passwords.
Before we go into what makes up a strong password and how to create hard-to-crack but easy-to-remember passwords, let’s first discuss the different scenarios in which a password is needed in the first place.
Your online accounts. Most people have a go-to password that’s used for their online accounts. The problem with this is, if one of your online vendors login tokens get compromised, the security of your other online accounts could be at risk to be compromised all at once.
In this case, it’s better to switch it up a bit between the usernames, e-mail addresses, and passwords used for your different online accounts.
To make keeping up with all these different logins and passwords easier, most browsers have a “remember password” feature. Of course, it’s only recommended that this feature be used on your personal private computers and devices and NOT on public ones.
Also, along with this feature most browsers now allow you to sync these usernames and passwords between your different devices that have these browsers installed on them.
Another added benefit to using these methods is the strong password generators that come included on these browsers as well. This allows you to create difficult-to-break passwords without even having to remember them! How convenient is that??
On your personal devices. Most phones and tablets during the setup process ask you to create a password that will be used to get into your device to use it. This is important, because much of your private data these days are stored somewhere on these devices.
It’s a good idea not only to create a password for these devices, but also to utilize biometric authentication (such as fingerprint scanning or facial recognition) to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data in case someone sees the pattern or the pin code you use to unlock your device, steals it, and tries to compromise your data. They will likely be limited to what they can retrieve without your fingerprint, retina, or face.
As an added measure (although unrelated to passwords), you may also want to utilize your manufacturer’s “find my device” feature in the event of theft. In some cases, this feature allows you to send a message to your device (such as a number to call if found), remotely lock it, or even wipe and erase it completely.
On your computer. Most of us are familiar with the password that your computer asks you for when log in for the first time after booting up or waking from sleep. However there are other passwords that can be used to protect your computer.
Among these are the BIOS password and Supervisor password (which prevents changes to the BIOS) that can be used to prevent unauthorized access to your computer if someone physically tries to boot your PC without your knowledge.
Now these passwords while providing a measure of security in a quick attempt to gain unwarranted access to your PCs data, can be easily bypassed if someone has long-term access to your computer without your knowledge or consent. This can be done using the jumper on your motherboard or by removing the CMOS battery in older computers.
To circumvent this vulnerability with these passwords, there’s another password that can save you loss of sensitive information. This is the hard drive password, or better yet the hard drive encryption password (more on drive encryption to come).
Now, regarding this password that’s used to protect your hard drive, this could be your last line of defense as it relates to a scenario in which your computer’s sensitive data could be compromised.
It would be of no benefit to have such a password if the password is weak and ineffective. Let’s talk about how you can create strong a password that will protect your data in such an instance.
We briefly touched on password generators back when discussing online accounts, but this may not be the best method to use when creating strong passwords for your hard drive. The reason being this that while password generators can create monstrous passwords that can’t be guessed or brute forced easily, they are not the easiest passwords to remember by heart.
Since the hard drive password will have to be entered each time your computer boots, it needs to be something secure, yet easy to remember.
A few months back we made a post on Instagram explaining how to do this, here’s an excerpt from that post:
“Complex passwords can be created easily by using a favorite phrase or quote and converting it into a password. For example, you can take the phrase “my favorite city is Dallas, and I’ve been around the world three times!!”, and create a strong password using the first letter of each word and convert some words into symbols and get: mfciD&ibatw3x!!. Here you have a nice long password that’s highly complex, hard to crack, yet personal to you."
Now that we’ve hashed out a few things about the importance of passwords, let’s talk about something that can make even the strongest password useless if not used properly, screen locks.
The importance of screen locking.
Our screens on our phones usually lock after a period of inactivity. This is helpful, because how frequently are we doing something whether at work or at home where we put our phone down to tend to a more important matter without thinking to lock the screen??
Are we doing the same things with our computers though? True, computers usually have a timeout where the screen locks after a certain period of inactivity. However, how long is that period of time?
Is it enough time to allow a co-worker to delete all your desktop shortcuts, change your wallpaper to a plastered-on blue screen of death, deactivate your mouse and keyboard, and leave you wondering who did it and why?
If so, just be glad that it was only a prank a not an attempt to hijack anything of importance.
It’s very important to lock your screen when away from your computer or to have a very short timeout period especially depending on how sensitive the data is that you access on your computer.
However, even the best attempt at keeping data secure using strong passwords and screen locking may not be enough. In some cases depending on how exposed your PC or device is to prying eyes, you may need to take it a step further and use privacy filters to prevent shoulder surfing.
These cover the screen of your computer or device and makes it extremely difficult to view your screen at an angle. The only way to clearly see what’s on the screen is to look at it directly so that the only one who can see what’s on the screen is the one using it.
How can backups help protect our data?? Isn’t this article about security?? So far, this article has touched on how to secure data from being compromised. However, we thought it important to mention because the article is entitled how to PROTECT your private electronic data.
Backups although not a security measure, they do protect your data in the event of a hardware failure. See, backups do fit into this article.
Speaking of backups and security, it’s also important to protect your backup drive just as you would your system drive in the event of theft.
The way to protect both backup drives and system drives as mentioned earlier is to enable disk encryption for these drives.
What does it do? Simply put, encrypts all the data on your hard drive making it virtually impossible for another party to read the contents without the password or other authentication method used to decrypt the drive.
Let’s spend some time talking about how this can be done on your computer.
For Apple users. FileVault can be used to encrypt entire drives on this operating system and comes built in already.
For Windows users. Windows also has a disk encryption feature called Bit Locker. In the past, Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Windows were the only ones to include Bit Locker encryption as a security feature.
Now, Windows 10 Professional has bit locker encryption that can be used to encrypt a drive contents in the event of loss or theft.
Also, for those not using any of these editions of Windows (or using some other Operating System without built-in encryption), there are third party disk encryption software options that are either free or commercially available.
Do some digging, find out which disk encryption method is the best option for you to go with. That about sums it up for the different ways to protect your data as related to this article.
Hopefully the tips mentioned here can help you to keep your data safe, secure, and out of the wrong hands. Remember these aren’t the only things that can be done to protect your data, they’re just some best practices to keep in mind.
Remember too, all may not need the same level of data security as others. The purpose of this article is to help the average user implement the security features they find most helpful to them.
There’s more to come soon. The next article will be about best practices to stay safe online.
As always thanks for reading our blog post!! If you feel that the information presented here was helpful to you, please feel free to share.