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10 Tips for Digital Safety

Continuing 2019's theme of technology, we're focusing this quarter on how to be safe online. There are a LOT of resources on this topic online (ironically) and elsewhere. As technology becomes more ubiquitous - we find ourselves on cell phones, in front of the computer or another screen all the time! Today we discuss both your health in relation to the technology as well as safety online - including personal identity protection for things like interviews as well as managing your privacy.

Doing everything "right" online can be daunting. We've distilled the noise into these top 10 suggestions - based on a review of several resources. We chose the highest impact, shortest time ideas.

1. Use secure and unique passwords - one way to do this efficiently and still remember them (!) is to create a sentence in your head and use the first letter of each word - using @ for a or ! for i, etc. This makes it easier to remember while also hard to break.

Pro-tip: Consider if you want your browser to remember this password? While it is inconvenient to type it in each time, it is likely more convenient than the damage control of a potential compromise. Also consider two-factor authentication. This is an extra step - where the website you are logging onto sends you a second code, either via e-mail or through SMS - that you enter to validate that it is truly you. This ensures that it is not someone with only some of your information trying to log into your account.

2. Password protect your devices. Make sure you use a PIN for your phone and a password for tablets, computers, laptops, and e-readers. If you can protect your smartgear (watches/fitness) with the same, do so! Voice, facial, and fingerprint recognition are publicly available and therefore you do not have to provide consent (in the U.S.) to unlock your device for search. Since you store significant amounts of personal and identifiable data on your devices - you want to limit access to devices in the same as you would for information regarding your bank accounts or anything else that is sensitive.

Pro-tip: If you are able to - use a virtual private network (VPN). Some folks use this to access data with a foreign IP address - but it's also a viable method to encrypt your connection to the web - especially for unsecured wifi, this helps to minimize the ability for a hacker to swim up to your system. VPNs can be installed on devices or on your router. For thoughts on which makes sense for you - check out these reviews. Also, be wary of any apps that are free. If it's free, the commodity is you (or your data more specifically).

3. Where possible use only partial information - consider how much data is associated with your full name, address, phone number, etc. Unless required (and from a site you trust) minimize the amount of data you share with any site.

Pro-tip: Ensure that when sharing data, especially exchanging financial data that you check the url to read HTTPS:// The S indicates a secure socket layer (SSL) encryption - this is a 128-bit encryption standard, incredibly difficult to break and constantly changing - ensuring the security of your data.

4. E-mail: Never open e-mails from someone you don't recognize, a company you've never shared your e-mail with, etc. When you receive information from your banking institution always go to their site by typing in the URL, not clicking on any links in their e-mail. Scams/Phishing are sophisticated, and often look very close to your true institution - check for spelling errors and tone - if it is out of the ordinary, call, don't click.

5. Check your privacy settings. this is the big elephant in the room. Privacy settings can be confusing, and tedious to change. They are the way that most companies obtain and sell your information, so they are critical to your security. For step-by-step instructions for some of the most popular social media websites, see here. For even more places (yikes!) including smart home devices see here.

6. Don't text and Drive. You see it all the time, but this is bigger than texting, it's checking your phone. If you can put it in airplane mode and leave it alone, you are far less likely to get in an accident. There are already enough things to think about on the road, checking another message is certainly not one of them. It's dangerous for you and those around you. (In 2016, 562 non-passengers were killed in distracted driving incidents in the U.S.)

Pro-tip: Turn off your location data. While some of this can still be collected, geo-location provides far more data than any other single meta-data collection. Correlating your location to others identifies your contacts, interests, and far more - this information can be used for good (sure), but also to enable threats to your physical safety. Use it only when required - and who knows maybe you'll discover a love of maps again!


7. Think before you Post. Despite non-public settings on your social media (point 5) it is worth evaluating what you post. The internet stores everything FOREVER. If you don't know who may access something later, it is worth considering if you want it out - in the same way that you would not have wanted certain things recorded, things you say, do, photographs, etc. If you don't want it to exist in the long run, don't post it, even privately. Employers will often troll through your social media to determine if you are a good fit for a company, so a vacation could reflect a great time, but it could also be a means to question our fit for a job. Alternatively, an intimate contact could become an ex, and do you want certain images or ideas to be left with them or to have been said privately in person?

8. Back it up. Ransomware and data loss through theft are still worries. The easiest way to protect yourself is to back up your information in a secure place that is separate from your primary system. Often doing this monthly on an external, secured (encrypted) hard drive is a best practice, but quarterly can work as well. Put it on your calendar as a recurrent appointment along with a credit check!

9. Keep antivirus and anti-malware software update, with scheduled scans of your device. If you want to keep your computer safe you have to stay ahead of the bad guys - this helps you do it automatically. Some of the best systems are evaluated annually and ranked by a number of sites, including TechRadar. One note of caution - know who owns the program you are using - they have access to your information, is it a company you trust?

Pro-tip: If you have an app you are interested in check the reviews and online reviews. Illegitimate apps are a way to download spyware and other malware. It is importnat to do this via an independent source, not users in the app store.

10. Get Offline! It's hard to be safer than avoiding it all together - but more importantly the quality of our relationships and conversations can be enhanced without a digital interface, where we can read facial expressions and hear silences. The art of engagement is going to become more crucial in a connected world - and frankly it's safer - we are better designed to understand physical threats than online ones. While not always the feasible option - it's a valid one and a novel one that might just help you rediscover other passions and live a healthier life.

8. Back it up.

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