Would you ever walk into a giant arena full of strangers and make it rain postcards with your name, phone number, and home address? No? Then what are you doing putting those details online, where anyone in the WORLD can see them?

It's easy to forget that the information that we put on the World Wide Web is visible not only to our actual social circle but to our friends' friends and their friends' friends... and that creepy guy halfway around the world that you've never met.

Personal information is just that—personal.

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Protecting Personal Data Online

In a time where large companies, celebrities, and even governments are falling victim to data breaches and cyber-attacks, getting hacked seems unavoidable. Personal data is the fuel that drives business in our increasingly digital world. So do you have to accept that your personal information is public business? No!

The following tips will help you take steps to protect your private personal information.

  • Power Up Your Passwords: Use unique and complex phrases with numbers and symbols so they are harder to crack. Change your passwords often, especially if you suspect a security breach.

  • Look for the "s": Make sure you read URLs carefully. A website that begins with http:// and not https:// is not secure. While on HTTP, data is sent in text format which is easy to read by anyone. HTTPS is encrypted so your info is more secure.

  • Click Carefully: Watch out for suspicious links and downloads as well as online questionnaires and free giveaways. They are often a trick to get personal information.

  • Be Wise About Wifi: If connecting to public Wifi, make sure you're connecting to a safe host. When using public computers, be sure to log out when you are finished.

Quiz

Which of these are your personal information?

Your education & employment history

Your name, birth date & ID number

Your income, purchases & spending habits

All of these

Protect Yourself, Protect Others

So you're using strong and unique passwords. You're on the lookout for suspicious emails that try to trick you into providing confidential information. You've even set up two-factor authentication on every account that offers it. You're basically a Personal Cybersecurity Rockstar ! But new threats are constantly popping up that threaten you and those tied to your digital identity. What can you do to take further steps to protect your personal information?

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Time for some digital decluttering!

"The physical presence of data is so small that sometimes we don’t think about it as being clutter," says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. "But we accumulate massive amounts of it, and some of it can be harmful if it gets lost or stolen."

Here are some tips from experts on how to clean that digital clutter before it comes back to haunt you.

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  • Destroy Old Devices: Get rid of any devices, thumb drives, and external hard drives that you don't use anymore. Sort through your computer desktop folders and eliminate old files that might contain sensitive documents.

  • Social Media, Email, and Cloud: Now go deeper. Get into apps, internet services, and the cloud. Your email account would be a valuable prize for a hacker. Delete old emails and export ones you want to save.

  • Cancel Unused App Accounts: Look for apps that you no longer use and shut them down. Instead of just deleting the app, close your account with the app developer so it retains the smallest amount of data possible about you.

  • Survey the Scene: Once you've done a thorough digital cleaning, take a step back and think about what you might be forgetting. As you inevitably accumulate more digital clutter, revisit these steps often.

"When we talk about security, we often talk about protecting our own things," Kaiser says. "But in reality, in the digital world we actually do sit on large amounts of information about other people, and that’s something to consider with decluttering and storing data more securely."

A good digital deep-cleaning will not only protect your information but could protect others as well. We are all connected in this digital world.

Quiz

One privacy best practice is to "keep your digital household clean." This means:

Searching your name regularly on Google

Deleting emails & cancelling unused apps

Buying brand new devices every year

Hiring someone to digitally deep clean

Summary

From shopping, to banking, to working and connecting with friends, a large portion of our lives is online these days.

Unfortunately, many fall victim to breaches in personal data or even unknowingly volunteer information themselves. Having your personal information stolen is a devastating experience that can take years to correct.

Fortunately, there are proactive steps you can take to better secure your personal data.

What will you do today to protect your personal information online?

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This Byte has been authored by

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Margaret Proffitt

Learning Designer | Travel Junkie | Book Lover