Thursday, February 5, 2009

How to Safeguard Your Personal and Financial data

In our digital age, it’s becoming increasingly hard not to share your personal data, such as passwords, bank account numbers, credit card numbers. Most companies prefer doing everything online for financial reasons. Unfortunately, some companies do not put in place the necessary stringent policies and procedures needed for your personal data to be secure.

Fortunately there are several ways you can take either when making online transactions or simply in your day-to-day computing life to safeguard your personal and financial data.

Keep your sensitive data off your computer -. Try your best to keep bank account numbers, passwords, etc off your computer. If you want to keep it in electronic format for easy access, that’s fine, simply buy a flash drive and store all the sensitive files there. Keep it in a safe place and if you need to refer to the documents, then just plug in your drive.

Avoid saving credit card info, etc on shopping sites - Many web sites today, such as Orbitz, Amazon, eBay, give you the option to save your credit card info so that you don’t have to type in all the information each time you want to buy something.

Do not use the same password for every last thing on the Internet - Make sure passwords are different a more complicated. Just throwing in a number or symbol at the end will make it hundreds of times hard for a person to crack your password!

Only connect to secure wireless networks if you can - If you have a home wireless network, secure it quickly! Connecting to non-secure wireless networks is asking for trouble. At the place I work, the sales people’s computers constantly have spyware on their computers because they connect to lots of insecure hotel wireless networks constantly. Avoid them at all costs!

Clear your browser’s cache after an online transaction - Sometimes your browser will save certain information you typed into forms, etc when you are online, so it’s always good to clear that after you’re done. Also, if you get that message sometimes from your browser asking you whether you want it to automatically save your passwords, etc, click NO. It’s another small pain, but it might help you one day!

Make sure your Anti-virus and Anti-spyware is up-to-date- This, of course, should be obvious. You can either buy excellent anti-virus programs like Kaspersky Anti-Virus or free programs like AVG, which is pretty good too. Either way, make sure you have something installed. However, most people usually stop there and don’t install any anti-spware programs. That’s a big mistake! Nowadays, spyware programs send your data to their creators so they can make money. Some good anti-spyware apps are Windows Defender, SpySweeper, SpywareBlaster, AdWare, and Spybot Search and Destroy.

Turn your computer off or on standby when you’re not using it

Avoid accessing financial information in public -prevent form logging on to check your bank balance when working from a coffee shop that offers wireless access. Although the systems are convenient but we do not know how powerful their firewalls are.

Use a secure Internet browser when you are online - Firefox is considered more secure than IE and that’s what a number of sites also have tested

Lock your computer at home and at the office - This is another one of those tips that most people don’t think about, especially at your office. If you leave for lunch and your computer is just on without a password-protected screen saver, what will stop a co-worker to get onto your computer and look through your My Documents, etc? It may not seem likely, but it can very well happen and it’s better to press CTRL-ALT-DELETE and press Lock Computer or put a password on your screen saver than have some co-worker copy your tax returns from last year!

Be careful who you give your computer to when it needs fixing – People simply trust technical support people too much. If someone is going to fix your computer, have then come over to your house and just watch as they do it. When you’re off in another room while they fix your computer, they can also be copying your entire hard drive for themselves.

Use advanced techniques like encryption, anonymous browsing, virtualization software, etc - Lastly, if you really want to do more than just the usual, you can encrypt your data, browse the Internet anonymously, or run IE or Firefox in a virtual environment. The advantage of the latter is that you can actually catch a virus or spyware program in the virtual environment and it won’t affect your operating system at all. You can read more by searching “virtualization software” in Google.

Remember, don’t be afraid of the Internet, it’s a great way to make your life easier and can be a safe place as long as you follow some simple common sense rules.