National Cybersecurity Awareness Month tips: How to secure your sensitive data

Major data breaches have been headline news in 2017, with the exposure of the Equifax files of approximately 143 million people the most high-profile incident of the year so far. When sensitive data is compromised at such scale, the victims aren’t at fault, since the critical flaw is almost always something involving the network security practices and access controls of the organization storing the data.

But that doesn’t mean that your everyday online activity is 100 percent risk-free. In fact, one of the key themes for National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) 2017 is “Simple Steps to Online Safety.” More specifically, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which organizes NCSAM, is emphasizing common-sense online protections and how to recover from a security event (like a breach).

Items such as passwords, financial records and Social Security numbers are particularly important to keep a firm grip on. What can you do right now to protect your identity and information from theft?

Quick actions you can take to secure your data from a variety of threats

There are many possible avenues to a data breach today, including relatively recent ones such as social media phishing schemes. According to one security vendor’s report, phishing attack originating from social media platforms surged 500 percent in the final quarter of 2016. The key driver of the increase was the uptick in accounts pretending to be official support channels of major brands.

Encrypted email can lessen the likelihood of your data being intercepted.Encrypted email can lessen the likelihood of your data being intercepted.

With Facebook- or Twitter-based phishing or any other type of attack, an effective defense requires making your data difficult to access or decipher for cybercriminals, which can most easily be done by:

1. Using encryption

Proper encryption ensures data is unreadable to prying eyes. It has many uses, including in:

  • Websites – Look for the HTTPS prefix in the URL bar and/or a padlock icon
  • Email – Most emails are transmitted without encryption, but there are numerous options in programs such as Microsoft Outlook and plugins like GPG Suite.
  • VPNs – Virtual Private Networks are like secure tunnels through the public internet and provide privacy even from internet service providers.

2. Updating operating systems and apps

Old applications and operating systems are more vulnerable to cyberattacks than newer ones. For example, ongoing use of Windows XP or legacy versions of Internet Explorer can make the effects of a ransomware attack or other malware infection much worse than they would otherwise be.

“Old applications and operating systems are more vulnerable to cyberattacks than newer ones.”

Make sure that you update to the latest version of your mobile and desktop operating systems. These improvements don’t merely add new features; they also frequently patch critical vulnerabilities that could leak your data.

3. Keeping secure data backups

Backing up your important information is critical in case a device is ever lost, corrupted or rendered unusable by malware. However, the 2017 Backup Awareness Survey from Backblaze found that 21.2 percent of respondents still “never” conducted data backups, despite the risks.

There are good options for both local and remote backups. You can use either an external hard drive or a more scalable cloud-based solution.

Get the most from NCSAM now with trusted security software

A solution such as Unlimited Internet Security from Total Defense is perfect as you revisit your data protection practices for NCSAM. It provides broad defense against malware, identity theft and performance slowdowns. Visit its product page to learn more.