Person using password to unlock smartphone

Four tips to keep your personal data private

“The world is a different place now...” Every generation says it, and every generation is right because our world is always changing. Unfortunately, one thing remains the same. There are always villains.

Today’s world is data-driven. There is data ‘out there’ about all of us who have anything that can be called an ‘account’—from social media to the most innocuous-looking email account. And ever-present villains are after it. Still, most of us don’t consider someone knowing our first and last names to be as significant as our latest medical diagnosis, for example. However, villains are patient. They see the power of taking your personal information a piece at a time and then aggregating it.

Don’t panic. You don’t have to go off the grid. Learn how to protect your personal information online and still enjoy a digital lifestyle.

1. Be aware of your surroundings

It may sound like a line from a superhero movie, but it’s relevant. The internet surrounds you with the most massive crowd imaginable. It’s an excellent place for villains to hunt for data. Social media is one of their favorite research tools. With this in mind, avoid posting things on social media that you would not want the world to know.

Awareness is not just for the internet. Villains also lurk in the physical world and are listening for information. So speak quietly when relaying personal information to health providers and bank personnel. Often in these cases, social security numbers are spoken out loud as well as a name and address information.

2. Use a password vault

Passwords are a hassle, but they are one of the first and most critical lines of defense. That’s why it’s essential to make them complicated and never repeat them. But you can use a password vault, such as LastPass, to make the process easier. With a password vault, you only need to remember one password. It then serves as a key to all the other complex passwords and is accessible from multiple devices.

Your master password should still include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers. It would be best if you also avoided actual words or phrases. Although sites usually recommend eight characters, a minimum of 10 characters is better.

3. Passcode-protect your mobile devices

The average smartphone owner uses 30 apps each month. Many are wide open doors into very personal areas of our lives. There’s the banking app, the convenient payment app, and even the app to view medical records. We’d all be irate if our bank set our records on a table in the lobby. Not putting a passcode on our phones is doing precisely that. If you lose your phone, or worse it's stolen, villains gain access to all of that wonderful personal information.

4. Check your privacy settings

Most phone apps, social media sites, online accounts, and even types of physical paperwork have ways to limit permissions for data sharing. As mentioned in tip one—be aware. Not all are automatically restrictive. Know what permissions your phone apps have and set them as low as possible. Validate web sites, email accounts, product sites, places providing paperwork, and any situations where your data could be shared. These privacy settings are important and help to protect you and your data.

Technology continues to make life easier. However, (yes, I am actually going to say it) ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ Take the time and effort to be safe, especially when the temptation is always for more convenience.