In the digital age, data is the new gold. Most businesses collect and store customer data to understand behavior and tendencies and provide a personalized experience. Experts estimate that in 2022, the world will produce and consume 94 zettabytes (87544322013855,12 gigabytes) of data. 

Sensitive information is just a droplet in the vast ocean of Internet data. However, its importance prevails in almost any digital field, including e-commerce, e-government services, social media, and many others. 

The following personal data is considered ‘sensitive’ and is subject to increased protection and regulations:

  • personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs;
  • genetic data, biometric data processed solely to identify a human being;
  • healthcare data;
  • personalized security credentials such as name, addresses, and payment details which can be used to carry out fraud.

In an environment where cyber threats are rampant, protecting sensitive data is a top security priority. Browsers require all websites to encrypt communications between users and servers, and companies invest in regular training to raise the cybersecurity awareness of their employees. In this article, we present seven sure ways how individuals and organizations can protect sensitive data.

Encrypt your files, folders, and website

The quickest way to secure confidential files and folders is to set up a password. You’d give users the password to access the data, and that’s pretty much it. Convenient as it is, passwords alone aren’t enough to secure your information from the prying eyes of cybercriminals. The most efficient way is to use passwords in combination with encryption.

Encrypting your data stops any user from reading or stealing it without having access to the decryption key. If you own a website, you have no choice but to encrypt it with an SSL certificate. It’s a requirement from all browsers, so no encryption means no visitors. 

An SSL certificate is a small digital file that uses cryptographic technology to turn plain text data into impossible to decipher strings of characters. You can only decrypt the data with a relevant key. 

SSL certificates enable HTTPS connections, encrypting the traffic between users’ browsers and websites’ servers. So, if you’re a visitor, ensure that the websites you access are secure. The padlock icon next to the URL indicates that the connection is encrypted.

Minimize Data Collection and Use

Data minimization means that companies should limit the collection of personal information to what is directly relevant and necessary to accomplish a specified purpose. They should retain the data only for as long as it serves its goal. 

When gathering personal data, only request what information you need. For example, if someone only needs to work in the medical field to access a specific service, there’s no need to ask for their title or their level of education.

To comply with existing data privacy laws and respect the principle of data minimization, evaluate how your company currently collects, retains, and manages data. With a data retention schedule in place, the whole process becomes effortless and automated.

Use a password manager and enable two-factor authentication

Today almost any service requires a password. Using the same password for multiple accounts is one of the worst things you could do. Instead of putting your data at risk with one password, let a password manager store all your passwords in a single account. The master password to your vault is the only password you’ll ever need to remember.

With a password manager, you can generate random passwords beyond the reach of any cracking programs. Moreover, with the convenient autofill feature, you can log into your accounts in no time.

Along with a password manager, use two-factor authentication (2FA) on your phone for the best defense against data breaches. When you enable 2FA, you’ll get a unique OTP (one-time password), code, or a link on your registered mobile number or email address anytime you try to log in to your account. For some users, 2FA is not user-friendly enough, and they disable it after a few uses. But lately, the 2FA apps have become more accessible. Ultimately, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so consider adding the 2FA for your most sensitive accounts.

Don’t store passwords in your browser

Your browser is the gateway to the virtual world. It can store all your browsing activity, including passwords and IDs. If you don’t disable this feature, you risk accumulating all your sensitive data in one vulnerable place. Anyone with access to your device can look for this information and find it easily. The next thing you know, someone else is using your accounts and payment information. To avoid this scenario, don’t let browsers store your passwords. Here’s a how to disable this feature in chrome:

  • Click the three vertical dots menu on the upper right side
  • Navigate to Settings
  • Find Autofill and select Passwords 
  • You’ll find a list of passwords for different accounts, which you can delete.

Back up data

Backups are an old-school security measure and a lifesaver when everything else fails. If you lose access to your files, backup copies allow you to restore them from an earlier point in time to help recover from an incident.

The golden rule with backups is to never store them on the same device as the original data. If hackers gain access to your system, all the information, including the backup, is at risk. For this reason, USB drives, portable hard drives, and cloud platforms are the safest places to store data. 

Google Drive, Dropbox, or Degoo are popular cloud storage options, ideal for personal use. For smaller businesses, inexpensive hard drives are a viable backup option, but larger companies usually opt for dedicated servers or a secure cloud. Important data should be backed up at least once a week, but preferably once every twenty-four hours. 

Use end-to-end encryption

Companies share massive amounts of data with their partners or internally within different departments. Most of this information travels via emails – one of the least secure methods of communication. Here’s where end-to-end encryption comes into the picture. 

It ensures that the only people who can access the data are the sender and the intended recipient – and no one else. Neither hackers nor unwanted third parties can access the encrypted messages and attachments.

One of the best and most affordable end-to-end encryption solutions for emails and documents is S/MIME certificates. S/MIME will let you digitally sign your emails and docs and confirm that you are the legitimate sender. 

Don’t use public Wi-FI without a VPN

Today, public WI-Fis are everywhere. People use them in airports, libraries, cafes, parks, malls, and even beaches. But as much as public wireless networks are convenient, they’re also dangerous. 

Other users can see your activity if the network isn’t secure and you log into an unencrypted website. They could hijack your session and log in as you. When you’re using free Wi-Fi, it’s not a good idea to shop online, use social media or access your bank account. You want to avoid visiting websites that save and store sensitive data.

Of course, there are situations when you have no choice but to use public WI-FI. In this case, connect to the internet via VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN changes your IP address and offers a private encrypted tunnel for web traffic transfer to prevent eavesdropping. All you have to do is install the VPN app on your device and select a server anywhere in the world where your VPN service has one.

Final Words

The Internet is safer than ever, yet still vulnerable to cyber attacks and data breaches. The mandatory HTTPS encryption and new data protection laws like GDPR are a strong shield against data theft and fraud risks. However, often they aren’t enough for complete protection, as hackers exploit the usual loopholes caused by banal negligence.

Hopefully, this article will help you tighten your data security practices and prevent attackers from accessing your sensitive information.

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