Data security: Everything you need to know

Data security

Data is all around us.

Your car is tracking fuel economy.

Stores monitor their number of visitors.

Your phone and other devices are constantly pouring out all kinds of data from your location to your contacts and browsing history.

All of this comes together to create the field of big data.

Big data involves massive amounts of information that advertisers, governments, research institutions, hackers, and other groups use for a wide variety of reasons.

Your data isn't just personal; it's valuable.

So here's everything you need to know about data security if you want to ensure your privacy and safety in the era of big data.

What do people want with your data?

Your data is more than just sensitive information, your personal identification number or credit card details.

It's everything you do online.

This is more than just what websites you visit. It includes everything that apps on your phone may be tracking.

It's things like how much time you spend on social media, who you contact, where you go, and how you spend your money.

This information is extremely useful to all kinds of people and businesses.

Advertisers use it to target potential customers effectively.

Companies like Facebook and Google use it to refine algorithms.

Governments and other organizations use it to track suspicious individuals.

Every time you connect to the internet, you leave a little trail back to you.

Importance of data security

Many people have a shared misconception of “having nothing to hide”.

In their minds, they are doing nothing criminal, so they don't feel that data security matters.

The problem with that is over the last decade internet usage has grown to encompass all aspects of our lives.

Think about it like this: what can you do with your phone or computer turned on airplane mode?

It's not that you have anything to hide, but would you want somebody constantly watching what you are doing in the real world?

Because this is exactly what major developers, hackers, governments, and others are doing right now.

Moreover, it's also ensuring your security.

Hackers don't need much information to be able to steal your identity. With a few details from social media and a couple of other things, they can sign up for credit cards under your name and a whole lot more.

What is data security?

Data security is an all-encompassing term referring to protecting data from unauthorized people or organizations.

Through using the right security products, safety protocols, and other strategies, you protect your privacy and security online.

Experts divide data security into three primary elements referred to as the “CIA Triad” because of the organization's tight data control policies. These consist of:

For businesses, this level of security is essential.

Each day, hackers target millions of business across the globe using data to take down websites, steal customer information, or use ransomware techniques forcing companies to pay to get their own data back.

Even for individuals, these security protocols are vital because hackers target people as frequently if not more often as businesses.

Or in some cases, they may target an individual to gain access to their company.

Either way, total data security prevents costly hacks and the other problems of data breaches from occurring.

The statistics on data security

Major hacks occur on an almost daily basis.

However, we tend to only hear about the biggest ones, like the Equifax breach in 2017 or the WannaCry ransomware.

In reality, millions of attacks happen on a smaller scale every day.

The IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2019 reported that 11 terabytes of data were leaked or stolen from 2016 to 2018. (1)

This amount is equivalent to around 5000 hours of streaming HD movies from Netflix.

This figure should be even more alarming since the average record is often only a couple of kilobytes in size.

It means that billions of records were stolen.

Types of data security measures

When it comes to data security, you have to take measures into your own hands.

Your operating system, web browser, and internet service provider (ISP) all provide you with base-level tools, but they don't cover the full extent of safety online.

You can keep yourself safe by following these essential security steps:

1. Realize you are a target

Whether you a billionaire or a broke college student, you are a target.

This is why some people have begun arguing that major companies like Facebook and Google should actually be paying us.

Our data is valuable.

They use it to sell to advertisers, developing new products and technology, and gain insights on users.

Everybody wants a piece of your data, and the larger your online footprint is, the bigger the target you become.

2. Begin with a data security evaluation

Before you take any major steps, now is a good time for an inventory. What that means is going through all your devices and checking key information, like app permissions, terms of service agreements, and how companies and your ISP can track and use your data.

You don't need to spend too much time doing this. You'll see several alarming features very quickly.

For example, you'll find apps requesting permissions that don't seem to make any sense. Like flashlights with access to your contacts. From here, you'll be able to make your data security checklist.

3. Protect your internet connection

The vast majority of all data breaches occur over the internet.

These happen in many different forms.

For example, some hackers set up man in the middle attacks to intercept data between users and servers.

Other parties may track your IP address and use the information to plant keyloggers and other types of malware on your computer.

The amount of threats is endless.

So one of the best ways to protect yourself is through using a VPN.

With a VPN (virtual private network), you mask your IP address and encrypt your internet connection with the latest security technology.

This prevents people from snooping on your browser history and using it to gain access to your data.

4. Secure your files

Your files are even more valuable than your base-level internet data.

Files contain all kinds of sensitive information from personal photos and videos, to work information, and so much more.

Not only that, files often contain a variety of information behind the scenes that cybercriminals can exploit to gain access to your computer and online accounts.

Or in other cases, they may use ransomware to block your access until you pay them a hefty fee.

So you could secure your files with a file encryption service like NordLocker.

With a file encryption service like NordLocker, you can seamlessly encrypt your files on your computer with a click of a button. You can also grant exact usage rights to make sure no unauthorized individuals attempted to get in.

5. Scan all files before you download them

Cybercriminals are clever.

They are very good at hiding malware.

Malware comes in a variety of forms, from keyloggers that track your keyboard usage to steal your login credentials, to programs that choke your CPU performance and bandwidth speeds to mine cryptocurrency.

Most of these files will appear normal and even contain whatever they would normally, like images, documents, or programs.

They'll just have a few malicious pieces of code designed to take over your computer.

For this reason, you need to scan all files before you download them.

You can use a free online service like VirusTotal.com for scanning files.

6. Backup your data

With data backups, you store multiple copies of the same data across several devices, like an external hard drive, a USB stick, or online cloud storage services, like Google Drive, OneDrive or DropBox.

Data backups not only foil ransomware attempts but are critical for other types of problems.

For example, hackers can target cloud storage companies and steal data.

Sometimes, weather or other unpredictable factors might shut a data center down. Like a storm in 2018 that knocked down a major Microsoft data center in Azure locking out users from key resources for days. (2)

So it's important to backup your data and make sure you have multiple backup solutions.

7. Control device and account access

Whether you’re a corporate or individual user, restricting device access is essential.

This begins with your smartphone.

All smartphones should be locked with a password or at least with a minimum six-digit pin code.

However, it's better to use biometric security features such as facial recognition software and fingerprint scans because it only takes a moment of your phone being unlocked for your data to fall into the wrong hands.

The same goes for your online and company accounts.

If you have a business, make sure to restrict admin privileges to only those users who absolutely need it.

For new employees or guests, create special accounts with high restrictions.

When you use another person's device to log in to one of your accounts, make sure to use “Incognito” mode and reset the browser after use.

8. Erase data securely

How you erase your data is just as important as how you store and access it.

When you erase a file from the computer, it's not gone yet.

Through a variety of techniques, it's possible to recover deleted files.

So it's essential you securely delete all files particularly when you sell or give away old equipment.

For confidential data, use erasure methods that involve overwriting data with random bytes that will prevent it from recovery.

You may want to have this process done several times to ensure files are fully unrecoverable.

9. Keep your operating system and other software updated

It may be annoying to see a pop-up box asking you to update when you're in the middle of an important email, but these notifications are essential.

Updates are much more than just cosmetic improvements to an app or operating system. They are most-often security patches developers release after hackers attack a specific vulnerability.

It may seem like you're constantly updating, but that it is a good thing. That means programmers are on top of any threats.

All you have to do is take a few minutes to let things update.

You can also set your computer to run updates automatically in the background or at times when you do not need to use your device to minimize inconvenience to you.

10. Practice and teach digital hygiene

Digital hygiene is a set of best practices that includes many of the strategies mentioned above.

The core concept behind it is learning how to recognize malware and other threats, like phishing attempts and other scams.

From here, it's just using security software and securing your files and internet connections.

However, these practices are only effective if everyone in your network also follows them.

This is why employers must educate their staff because it only takes one wrong download to take down your network.

Teach your employees these techniques so you can ensure your data is safe.

Furthermore, emphasize an environment of open communication.

We all make mistakes.

If somebody thinks they may have downloaded an infected file, they should feel comfortable reporting it immediately.

The sooner the file is removed, the less damage a cybercriminal can do.


Everybody needs to understand the importance of data security.

Data security concerns everybody from individual users to massive corporations, governments, and more.

Through the techniques listed above, you'll be ready for anything the Big Data Era throws your way.


Maybe you're also interested in:

What data can a thief get from a stolen Android phone?

Computer and internet security tips against viruses and hackers

How to stay safe online (internet safety tips)

Malware: types, protection, prevention, detection and removal

Computer virus: types, symptoms, protection and removal


References:

IBM.com: IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2019

Geekwire.com: Microsoft Azure's southern U.S. data center goes down for hours, impacting Office365 and Active Directory customers