How Safe Is Your Online Data?
In a world of frequent data leaks, data security should be a concern for all of us. Encryption technology helps — but how safe is your online data, really?
September 13, 2021
The modern economy runs on data, more so than most of us realize. Every activity we do online is logged and analyzed, and even many “real world” activities are subject to a surprising amount of data collection.
Plus, you probably have what seems like 100 different online accounts to 100 different services. That’s a massive amount of data, passwords and sensitive information.
This article provides a primer on how data is stored and used, as well as actionable advice from data security experts.
What is financial data security and why does it matter?
Your personal and financial data should be kept private wherever possible. If it falls into the wrong hands, it can be used against you, resulting in fraud, scams and even identity theft.
We all know that important information like our social security numbers should be kept very private and only used when absolutely necessary — but even seemingly unimportant information can be used against us.
Location data, spending habits and our birth dates can be used by aggressive marketing companies and cybercriminals.
How secure is your data online?
This question is difficult to answer concisely. Data security depends on your individual behavior online and the behavior of the companies and services that you use.
Carelessly posting your credit card information on social media would obviously result in issues. But the social media service itself becoming compromised could have the same end result of your credit card number being leaked to hackers, regardless of your own actions.
While you can take steps to protect your data, the frequency of large-scale data leaks has been increasing lately. In recent years, there have been a huge number of high-profile data breaches and hacking events, including:
A massive hack at Equifax, a credit reporting agency, which resulted in the breach of the information of more than 143 million people. This included credit history, addresses and social security numbers.
A glitch on the Facebook app resulted in the leak of 530 million Facebook users’ information, including phone numbers and account names.
Google admitted that app developers and “others” have access to users’ Gmail data.
Unfortunately, many companies have your personal data on file. Data collection is big business. In fact, it’s a core component of many of the most successful businesses of the modern era.
Urs Gasser, executive director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University was interviewed by The Harvard Gazette, explaining that, “Most of today’s tech business models are based on targeted advertisement, which relies on collecting, sharing, and analyzing vast amounts of user data.”
As this trend accelerates, more and more Americans are finding themselves to be the victims of data leaks. In fact, a Pew Research study found that 64% of Americans “have experienced or been notified of a significant data breach pertaining to their personal data or accounts.”
How to secure your data
Perhaps your data isn’t quite as secure as you would have hoped. What can you do about it?
Know where you stand
A good place to start is to determine whether your information has been leaked already. You will typically be notified via email when a known breach has occurred with your information, so you can search your inbox for terms like “breach,” “privacy,” “data,” “compromised,” etc.
You can also use an online tool like HaveIBeenPwned.com. Despite the silly name, this is the most up-to-date database of breaches that allows you to search by your own email or phone number.
Strengthen your passwords
One common trend for cybercriminals is to breach companies with poor security looking for email and password combinations. They then use these combinations to attempt to log in to user accounts on more important services, such as financial accounts.
These plots can easily be foiled, however, if you simply use a different password for each service you use. If you struggle to remember passwords, it can be helpful to use a password manager such as LastPass, Keeper or Dashlane.
Password managers are generally recommended by cybersecurity experts. The password managers encrypt your passwords, so even if they’re hacked, your passwords aren’t visible.
Be wary of public Wi-Fi
Connecting to public Wi-Fi networks — at coffee shops, airports or transit stations — can potentially expose you to cybercriminals. It’s best to avoid using public Wi-Fi; but if you must, avoid logging in to any important services such as financial institutions or medical care providers.
Danny Pehar, a cybersecurity specialist, also warned of fake Wi-Fi networks, explaining:
“When you are in a public place, don’t assume because it says ‘McDonald's free Wi-Fi’ on your phone that you are connecting to McDonald’s internet. Many criminals will choose legitimate names to fool you into thinking you are connecting to the right place.”
Use a VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is a service that can strengthen your data security through the use of technology. VPNs essentially encrypt your data and hide your IP address by rerouting your data through a separate server.
VPNs are particularly important when using public Wi-Fi, and some security experts note that they should be used on all your devices.
Protect your cell phone
Your smartphone contains a shocking amount of your personal data. If it gets lost or stolen, your data may be compromised. By taking steps to implement better cell phone security, you can minimize these risks.
Perhaps the most important tip is to simply be aware of what data you are sharing when using any sort of service. It’s also recommended to read through privacy policies before you sign up for any new service.
You might also consider getting a second email address and using it for unimportant apps and services. That way, if the random smartphone game you downloaded five years ago gets hacked, your primary email will not be compromised.
Protecting your data can help strengthen your financial security, but protecting your finances doesn’t stop with data security. Implementing better financial habits — like paying off credit card debt — is also vital. That is where Tally† comes in. Tally offers a lower-interest line of credit and credit card payoff app to help you get out of debt faster.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. Based on your credit history, the APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% - 29.99% per year. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.