Our top tips for keeping your data safe, as well as you, during this pandemic
With a worldwide pandemic on our hands, we’ve all had to adapt our lives and spend more time than ever before in our houses. Many of us are working from home day in day out for the first time, others are embracing their inner Marie Kondo and having big sort outs, and pretty much of all of us are on the internet at some point each day, saying hi to friends on Zoom or ordering a week’s shopping. Unsurprisingly, this has led to record levels of internet and telephone traffic, with Virgin Media stating that the UK’s daytime internet usage doubled in the first week of lockdown. And, sadly, cyber criminals are taking advantage of this. According to GCHQ, hackers are sending fake emails purporting to be from video conferencing services, creating coronavirus tracker apps full of malware, and looking for vulnerabilities in remote working software. On top of this, by working from home and having sort outs, physically, we are likely to have more confidential materials in our homes at the moment. So, it’s more important than ever that we make sure our data, both on and offline, is secure. But, how do we do this? Here are 8 ways to get started…
Create strong passwords
We know this one seems obvious, but, with the top five most commonly used passwords in 2019 including ‘123456’ and ‘password’, it seems many of us just never learn. It’s totally understandable why people use these types of passwords – they’re simple and easy to remember. But, this means they’re also super easy for hackers to crack. So, if you’re using passwords like this, it’s time to change them. Strong passwords are made up of a long string of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters and need to be unique for every account you have. And to help you remember them, you can use a password manager to do the hard work for you.
Equip yourself with anti-virus software and firewalls
Like strong passwords, anti-virus software and firewalls act as a line of defence to stop threats entering your system. They are absolutely essential and should be right at the top of your data protection shopping list. Firewalls work like a filter between your device and the internet, controlling the incoming and outgoing network traffic. Without them, anything can come and go, but with them, they determine what is allowed through and what isn’t – a bit like a virtual bodyguard. But, even with a firewall, threats can still sometimes get through. And this is where the anti-virus software comes in as back-up. A good anti-virus software can detect and take action to remove malware, such as viruses, worms and Trojan horses. The software runs in the background of your device, scanning and cleaning files, removing viruses and the like, and keeping you updated on your system’s ‘health’. So, where the firewall was a bodyguard, anti-virus software is more like a surgeon.
Arm yourself with a VPN
Along with a great surgeon, a bodyguard and strong passwords, arming yourself with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is another big tick in the data protection box. VPNs hide your IP address, give you location anonymity and encrypt your internet traffic, rendering it unreadable to anyone trying to intercept it. Basically, they create a private network from a public internet connection, giving you online privacy and protection. VPNs are easy to download – just do your research into which ones work best – and will give you another level of security when online.
Do those regular updates
When you get a notification telling you that you need to do an update, it’s so easy to ignore it – and we’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another, especially if we’re in the middle of a piece of work or watching the finale of our favourite boxset. But, however annoying they might seem, updates are really important and should be done as soon as they’re needed. They often include patches for security vulnerabilities that have been discovered since the last time you downloaded or updated the software. So, by not updating, you’re putting your device – and data – at risk.
Look out for phishing emails
Ever received one of those too-good-to-be-true tax refund emails? Yep, this is a phishing scam. Cyber criminals use phishing emails, text messages (smishing) and voicemails (vishing) to “phish” for information and trick you into providing personal or financial information that they can then use to steal money from your bank accounts, take out loans in your name or make fraudulent purchases with your credit cards. And, right now, these criminals are taking advantage of the current pandemic and targeting remote workers, as well as those who want more information about COVID-19. According to Norton, examples of these include WHO alerts, health advice emails and workplace policy emails, but there are many more. To spot a phishing email, check the sender’s email address for spelling errors and oddities, see how well the email is written (Is the grammar poor? Are there spelling mistakes?), and hover over links to see what the URL looks like. If in doubt, don’t click.
Back up your data
Backing up your data is good for many reasons. For starters, accidents happen; we all know someone, or have been that person, who’s spilt their tea or coffee right onto their laptop. And, within seconds, it’s gone forever. Same goes for accidentally deleting or saving over files, or your computer suddenly breaking down with little warning (or warnings you ignored just that little bit too long). That’s without even adding in the more sinister ways you can lose your data – for example, your device being physically stolen, or entire systems wiped by a cyberattack. So, backing up your data is essential. You can do this physically, with a USB or a hard drive, or, by far the better option, via the cloud. Cloud-based storage is plentiful, pretty cheap and has the flexibility to be expanded if needed. As it’s a remote server, you can also access your data from anywhere.
Log out and lock up
While police have reported a 37% drop in burglaries and a 27% drop in vehicle crime and personal robbery during lockdown, that doesn’t mean we should relax our data protection habits. So, even though you’re at home, still make sure you log out of your devices when not in use, leave them out of sight, away from windows, and keep them somewhere safe (e.g. tie your laptop to the table with a Kensington cable, lock devices away in a filing cabinet or keep them in a lockable room).
Dispose of your data securely
When people think about looking after their data, they often think about doing so while it’s active and in use. But, it’s just as important to look after your data when you no longer need it. If we think about somebody having a clear out, they might be throwing away old receipts, payslips, prescriptions, letters and a whole host of other documents that contain sensitive information. Put into the general waste or recycling, these items are at risk of being picked up and used by criminals. Same goes for people working from home, printing off invoices, project proposals and the like. Any documents that contain confidential information must be shredded securely to ensure their safety. Similarly, if you want to get rid of your old computer, USBs or hard drives, you must treat these as confidential materials, even if you’ve wiped them. This is because, as long as these devices are still physically in tact, there’s always a chance the information on them can be retrieved.
For these reasons, when it comes to confidential data disposal, it is always best to consult with a data destruction specialist, who have the right equipment, accreditations and knowledge to destroy your sensitive information securely. Whether you are a business, organisation or an individual, we can help you with this. To do so, just give us a ring on 01242 588600, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or have a read about our confidential shredding services here.
In the meantime, stay safe and look after yourselves (and your data).