Cybersecurity

Less is more: Conquer your digital clutter before it overwhelms you

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Lose what you don’t use and other easy ways to limit your digital footprint and strengthen your online privacy and security

In case you missed it, last week was Data Privacy Week, an awareness campaign to remind everyone that one of our online activities creates data footprints and, therefore, we need to better manage our personal information online. And for good reason.

More and more, we live our lives in a digital world. Meaning: log into a social media platform to socialize with friends; communicate by e-mail, using search engines, messaging, and video conferencing tools; and consuming content via streaming services. But every organization you interact with wants a piece of you. They ask for information such as logins, contact details, location, and even browsing history to keep your account secure, provide a more personalized experience, and monetize their relationship with you.

The smart move is to limit the volume of information you share with these organizations, and publish it online, to reduce the resulting security and privacy risks.

Problem with overuse

The more sites and apps you share personal and account information with, the more likely your details will be compromised – if one of those companies is compromised, or you become a direct target for a hacker. There is also a greater chance that your browsing and other information will be shared with third-party advertisers and others. And, of course, if you publish content on social media, you might invite the whole world to observe the minutiae of your everyday life.

This not only jeopardizes your personal security and privacy. If you use work devices or unknowingly share company information, that could also pose a threat to your boss – raising the stakes even higher. Even something as innocuous as a pet’s name or details of your current role can be used by hackers to try to open online accounts, and/or tailor phishing attacks to obtain more sensitive information.

Limiting what you publish and share online makes sense in a digital world increasingly populated by fraudulent cyber thieves and data brokers. But with so much information spread across so many websites, accounts, and devices, it can be hard to know where to start.

Here are our top 10 steps to get started:

10 ways to limit your digital footprint

Mobile applications often require users to enter significant amounts of personal and/or financial information to function properly. They may also track location, browsing activity and other info which is then shared with third parties. It makes sense that the fewer apps you register, the less exposed your information will be.

Your default boost shouldn’t be downloading first and asking questions later, but the other way around. Do some research before deciding if it’s something you really need.

Then it goes without saying that you should regularly “clean” your device to remove any apps you haven’t used for a long time. While you’re at it, check the permissions for the apps you decide to keep.

  • Set up fewer online accounts and clean up the existing ones

Companies don’t just want your custom. They want your loyalty. That’s why many will encourage you to set up an account and share information that can be monetized that way. It can be anything from an ecommerce store to a media site. Resist the urge to do so, even if it means your payment and other details won’t be saved the next time you visit. A little inconvenience is often the price we pay for greater privacy and security.

If over the years you’ve created online accounts that you don’t really need and use anymore, close them.

  • Be careful not to share sensitive data

Sometimes sharing info is unavoidable to get the desired goods or services. But be careful what you give up. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t share things like phone numbers, email and home addresses, financial details, and social security numbers, which are in great demand in the cybercrime underground. Emails and phone numbers can be used to spam recipients with phishing messages, for example. Use a guest account when purchasing online to further reduce risk.

  • Think twice before sharing on social media

Social media is like a digital megaphone. For many of us, the content we share is liked, re-shared, and made nearly impossible to delete or take back once it’s out in the digital domain. So it’s important to first consider how the content might be perceived by others, and potential employers. And whether it contains sensitive information about your work and personal life. Also consider limiting your profile to online friends/contacts only, and not adding anyone you don’t know in real life. Review privacy preferences and note that any unsolicited contact may be fraudulent.

  • Exercise your right to delete

For people in some parts of the world, including the European Union, regulators have created new ways for data subjects to remove information they don’t like from certain online locations. This so-called “right to delete” is spearheaded by the EU GDPR. Search online for your name to see what’s out there and contact the website owner directly to request removal. Then contact a search engine like Google to do the same.

  • Keep your location secret

One of the most intrusive forms of data capture is tracking your location. From there, third parties can build a highly accurate picture of your daily movements and habits. It not only jeopardizes your digital privacy, it can also compromise physical security. Make sure to stop the app from tracking your location.

  • Don’t fill out online surveys

The Internet is awash with competitions and prize offers, often in exchange for completing online surveys or similar. Several covert marketing campaigns to build a contact list. Others may be criminal attempts designed to steal your personal information to use in phishing campaigns and/or to sell on the dark web.

  • Be ruthless with newsletters

Big online brand in digital newsletter. They believe this allows them to communicate directly with their customers, and provide them with personalized content and promotions. But for many of us, online newsletters do little more than clog our inboxes. Resist the urge to sign up. Alternatively, use a dedicated email address for this purpose or a disposable email account, especially if you’re signing up for something you’ll only use once.

  • Turn off third party cookies

Cookies are small files that are downloaded to your PC or device when you visit a website. They are used by site owners to create profiles of who visited their site and to save preferences for future visits. While this can make the browsing experience better, many of us prefer not to share this type of information, which can include usernames and passwords. If given the choice to visit the website, simply refuse to accept cookies. You can also disable third-party tracking by going to your browser’s privacy settings.

  • Limit the number of devices you use

Finally, consider how many devices and PCs you actively use. Each of them is a potential treasure trove of data that could be exposed if the device is lost or stolen. Do you really need to buy that new tablet? If the answer is still “yes”, do you need to sync all your personal data to it?

Continue your good work

Data minimization is industry best practice for the organizations we interact with every day, helping to reduce their regulatory risk exposure. With a caveat, this can also be a best practice for the data subjects themselves – to enhance our security and privacy as we navigate the treacherous waters of the internet.

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