How to Protect Your Personal Data: Three Privacy Tips To Stay Ahead

October 3, 2022
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Technology has advanced our world in countless ways. Every day we bank, shop, conduct business, and exchange photos and messages with family and friends online. While digital devices and services offer great convenience, they also pose risks to our data and privacy as our offline and online lives converge.

In 2021, data breaches reached an all-time high of 1,862, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), a 68% increase over 2020. While the record volume of breaches is concerning, what is also notable is that 1,600 of the total 1,862 compromises were a result of cyber attacks — indicating that data breaches will continue to grow in scale and sophistication in the future.

As companies work to put in place more defenses to safeguard the customer data they hold, it’s also important that individuals take action to protect their own security, privacy and identity information. There are many steps you can take, but to get you started, here are three simple tips to consider:

1. Limit the sensitive personal information you share

According to a Lookout-commissioned survey of over 2000 users, 71% of consumers said they did not trust social media companies with their data.* With news headlines reporting over one billion leaked records from Facebook and LinkedIn profiles alone in 2021, it’s increasingly difficult for individuals to secure their privacy and data online.

You may want to consider how much information you feel comfortable sharing when interacting with online services. When shopping online, for example, it’s common for companies to ask for your birthdate or email for promotional offers. Consider why a company is requesting information and what they might do with it before you provide it. Remember that declining is always an option.

In the case of the LinkedIn and Facebook breaches, sensitive information exposed included phone numbers, physical addresses and email addresses, as well as personal and professional details.

2. Check your account and app settings for improved online security 

Another way to minimize the risk to your data is to check the settings for all your online accounts and devices, which we often leave at its default state.

According to our survey, almost one in four people have their Facebook profile settings set to “public,” which means that anyone can view and collect personal details posted to these accounts. We also found that 60% of users have their birthday publicly available, 47% list their hometown, and 30% post names and information about family members.

This is particularly concerning as many people often use personal information as their login passwords. Attackers can easily scrape this information from users’ social media platforms to guess passwords or impersonate your identity.

If you have apps on your mobile device, you can delete, disable or change their privacy settings — which will reduce the amount of data they collect. You should also look through the number of third-party apps that you may have granted access to information about your social media profiles. In the event any of these other apps are breached, it’s possible that they could expose the data you have on your accounts.

3. Know what data may already be leaked and take proper security measures

The unfortunate truth is that many of us may already have our information leaked as part of a breach. Data from Lookout shows that 80% of consumers have had their email addresses leaked on the Dark Web, 70% their phone numbers, 10% their driver’s license, and 7% their Social Security number.*

It’s important to remember that the occurrence of a data breach does not necessarily translate to your data being misused. However, a data breach is a leading indicator of potential identity compromise, so it’s critical to act quickly to protect your information.

You can start by using our free email scan tool to get a report of any data breaches that may be associated with your email and online accounts. If your email has been leaked, then you need to change your password immediately. We also recommend that you enable two-factor authentication, whether it's with SMS or an authenticator app, to protect your accounts. Two-factor authentication adds an additional layer of protection to your account even if your passwords are compromised. You can also use a password manager like SaferPass by Lookout to help you create stronger passwords and store them securely. 

Finally, to protect yourself in the future, you can enable breach alerts and personal identity monitoring services that will alert you immediately if your information is compromised and `provide steps to protect against account compromise or identity theft.

While there is no single solution to secure all digital information, you lower your risks by taking simple steps to protect your data and privacy including being aware (and selective) about the data you share online, customizing your account and device settings, and by enabling monitoring tools to protect your important information.

*Lookout commissioned a survey to 2,000 consumers in November 2021.

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