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Your Identity Is Connected to All of Your Devices. Here's How to Protect It.

You don’t have to be a super geek to protect yourself from cyber criminals and hackers. Sure they might know more about computers and software than you do. However, there are basic defenses available to help you stand up against even the most sophisticated online threats.

Today, most of us have multiple devices to access the Internet. All of these devices create a latticework of information that links to you personally. If one device is unprotected, it could be compromised in a way that affects all the others. That’s because most of us use different devices to access many of the same personal and sensitive accounts we manage online—everything from insurance and banking to retail shopping and social media.

Your identity is connected to all of your devices. Here are some tips to help protect your personal data:

Desktop Computers

At some point, most of us will need to use a home or office computer to perform important personal tasks. Desktop computers pose unique challenges because they are often shared devices that remain continuously connected to the Internet and contain ample storage for personal data. Here’s what you should do to protect yourself if you use a desktop computer:

  • Regularly back up your data—this means copying important files to an external hard drive or onto a cloud-based system. Cloud-based systems offer great security and most can be accessed from any device and at any time.
  • Install anti-malware software. Malware is short for malicious software, which is definitely not something you want on your computer. This layer of protection will guard against worms, Trojan horses, and spyware.
  • Update the operating system as often as possible. Every update contains valuable patches to fix vulnerable areas of the software. You can change the settings on your computer to automate this process and automatically download the update every time it’s available.
  • Ensure old hardware is unreadable. Deleted files on a hard drive are usually still retrievable—although it does take considerable skill. Always have a hard drive wiped completely using magnetic cleaning, special software, or disk shredding.
  • Turn off your computer. Left on and connected to the Internet, your computer is an easy target.

Mobile Devices

These days, most of us carry a smartphone or tablet, which can make life a bit easier as well as less secure. That’s because mobile devices are jumping across Wi-Fi networks and on and off Bluetooth and GPS. Here’s what you should do to help secure your identity on various mobile devices:

  • Always set a password to lock a phone or tablet down after a short period of inactivity. This is an easy way to discourage would-be criminals who might gain access to your physical mobile device should you ever lose it.
  • Disable Bluetooth when inactive. Bluetooth is a venerable connection. It’s not safe to leave this on all the time, so keep if off if you’re not using it.
  • Always check privacy settings after an update. Updates on mobile devices will often default the privacy settings. Every time you update, go into the settings menu and ensure that things like automatic uploading are disabled.
  • Always review push notification requests. While push notifications can be an easy way to stay connected to updates and news in an app, if left unchecked they can also share your personal information or grant other access to parts of your phone or tablet.
  • Be cautious of apps from unknown sources. Apps are part of what make smartphones and tablets so convenient, but they’re also a doorway through which malware can easily enter.
  • Install mobile security software. You can protect your online interface while surfing the web via mobile just like you would for a server or desktop browser.

Password Security Precautions

If you follow most of the tips above, your chances of protecting your identity across multiple devices will greatly improve. Here are a few tips to help ensure your passwords on these devices don’t become compromised:

  • Don’t use the same password on every device. This is an easy way to help improve security.
  • Avoid passwords that contain numerical information like ages, dates of birth, phone numbers, or social security numbers.
  • Don’t write your password down near or on the device. You’d be surprised how many people actually do this. If you have trouble remembering your password, try using a passphrase instead. This could be a song lyric or a famous quote.
  • Avoid sending information regarding passwords or other sensitive personal data via text, email, or messaging service. These are not secure lines of communication and you should avoid doing it at all costs.

Follow these guidelines to help keep your personal information where it’s supposed to be: safe and sound in your possession only!