We live in an age where nearly every aspect of our lives has been digitized, with all of our interests, proclivities and (in some cases) most personal thoughts and opinions available to the public through social media bastions such as Facebook and Twitter. When it boils down to it, much of what we hold dear can now be summed up in a stream of 1's and 0's, all of which is available to us at a mere click of a button or swipe of a touch-screen. But this convenience has come at a cost. Our personal information is being used on a daily basis for commercial and political means without our consent (a fact that has been underlined by the Edward Snowden scandal) so it surely benefits us to make sure every piece of our private data is safe from prying eyes, especially in a business world rife with corporate espionage. The article below will outline a few subtle ways in which you can keep your data safe.
In a certain sense, emails are almost like virtual postcards that are readable by anybody who happens to catch it in transit between yourself and its intended recipient. This will include your Internet Service Provider and your Email provider (especially if it’s a larger scale service such as Hotmail or Gmail) who might be able to use the information in that email to ascertain your interests so they can more successfully market their wares towards you. Spam email is annoying of course but it's not exactly dangerous, of course your information could also be used for far more malicious purposes though if it finds its way into the wrong hands. If this is a genuine worry to you then email encryption is an obvious solution. Encryption scrambles your messages at their source and unscrambles them at the other end so that whilst it is in transit, nobody will be able to read it. Of course for encryption to work, both parties much have the requisite software.
Data cleansing essentially involves detecting and removing or changing corrupt and inaccurate information from your database ('dirty data'). This could be anything from invalid or misspelt addresses to duplicate entries. Whilst data cleansing might not affect the safety of your data per-say, it is a necessary process that businesses of all sizes should undertake on a regular basis. Companies such as Data8 Data Cleaning offer a comprehensive data cleaning service.
The Onion Router
The Onion Router (or 'TOR') is a program that disguises your internet traffic by sending it through a network of hundreds of routers before reaching the other side. Of course browsing the internet this way can be incredibly slow (for obvious reasons) but if you’re sending important information (via files swapping sites for example) that you don't want to outside world catching onto then it's unfortunately often a necessary evil.
Avoid Malicious Software
Malicious software (software that allows hackers access to the information on your computer) is becoming increasingly more sophisticated and more difficult to spot as technology improves. Although a great deal of this software is so clever it can't be detected by most commercial computers, there are preventative measures that can be taken. Installing a decent firewall on your system is absolutely essential, as is changing all of your passwords on a regular basis and making sure that all of your software is up to date with the latest drivers. It can be exhausting work keeping on top of it all, but what with the increased amount of cyber attacks happening worldwide, it's work that should not be in vain.
Avoid American Companies
This isn't baseless xenophobia talking, the NSA 'Prism' data program recently revealed by The Guardian is lawfully allowed to extract data from any US based website without a warrant. Thankfully this doesn't apply to sites based out of the EU so make sure to use European websites and servers whenever possible.
Whilst a fair chunk of this article might come across as scare-mongering paranoia, the sad fact is that if you don't want the eyes of the wider world all over your precious personal, private data, they are precautions you might need to start taking seriously!
Ian Appleton is a freelance copywriter (and closeted conspiracy theorist) from the UK. His data is thankfully not only completely non-incriminating but immaculate thanks to Data8.