Are you #CyberAware? 4 best practices for keeping personal data private online

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) is observed each October in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security leads the proceedings, promoting social media campaigns with the hashtag #CyberAware and organizing keystone events on central topics such as online safety and threats against critical infrastructure. In 2016, it reported more than 150 million Twitter impressions of NCSAM.

In advance of NCSAM 2017, what should you be doing to keep your identity and data safe while you are online? Cyber criminals do not take the rest of the year off, so you should be fully prepared to defend against threats no matter what month it is.

The basics of protecting personal data online

The internet in its current form provides numerous incentives for tracking and information exchange, especially of your personal data such as what sites you are visiting, your geographic location and your search history. Accordingly, numerous advertisements, scripts and other add-ons are standard features of modern websites.

These features have fueled a nonstop increase in average web page size since 1995. Most sites are not directly monetized, meaning that the collection and sale of your data via such mechanism is instead how site owners make money.

Websites contain many trackers and ads these days.Websites contain many trackers and ads these days.

But the sheer number of moving parts devoted to this purpose on the typical page presents a major potential risk. For example, the infrastructure could be hijacked to deliver malware or steal details of financial transactions, in addition to its intended task of compiling more mundane data.

Any strategy for protecting your data and privacy must account for these vulnerabilities across today’s web. Some useful routes to explore include:

1. Anti-phishing software

Phishing is a highly efficient method of data extraction, one that might take advantage of an official-looking channel such as online chat or an email newsletter to solicit a response (e.g., “Just click here”). A lot of spam email in particular is the result of the common data extraction techniques we described above.

Becoming a phishing victim means potentially having some of your most sensitive data exposed to cyber criminals. Fortunately, a protective suite such as Ultimate Internet Security from Total Defense will automatically block suspicious messages and posts so that you can steer clear of danger.

2. Content blockers

One of the downsides of today’s ad- and tracker-saturated web is the performance penalty it enacts on your device. Sites with tons of additional behind-the-scenes infrastructure take longer to load than simpler pages. You’ll inevitably use up more network bandwidth and processing power just to complete routine requests.

“A downside of today’s ad- and tracker-saturated web is its performance penalty.”

There are many content blockers intended to shield your PC or mobile device from all this overhead. Specific capabilities vary, but tools may stop anything from banner ads to auto-playing in-line videos. A platform like Ultimate Internet Security can help further by ensuring that protective features do not detract from overall performance.

3. Virtual private networks

A virtual private network is sort of like a secure tunnel you can “drive” through as you navigate the internet. It shields you activity from prying eyes and is useful in blocking targeted ads as well as the harvesting of your IP address.

VPNs usually require a paid subscription. Look for a provider that does not extensively log your activities or sell your data to third-parties. VPNs are not security tools on their own, though they can be powerful complements to other software in keeping your data away from strangers.

4. Awareness

Technical solutions are critical in the fight against malware and privacy intrusions of all kinds. But perhaps the most important tool is awareness of what risks exists online. Phishing, ransomware and other cyber attacks can often be avoided if you know the tell-tale signs of their schemes, such as requests for payments in a phishing email.

As NCSAM approaches, keep these options in mind as you think about how to protect your data. You can also explore our full range of security tools in our online store.