Personal data security is something we’re all responsible for when it comes to our own internet practices. While it used to be that only the most paranoid among us would take extra steps to protect our security, the prevalence of hacks now means we’re all vulnerable. Even if you’re not a high target or working with sensitive information, you can still become the victim of an attack, which can have a debilitating effect on both your professional and personal life.
The most common tactics when it comes to personal infosec are probably ones you’ve heard of before, or already do yourself. These include using distinct and complex alphanumeric passwords, enabling two-factor authentication on your accounts, using VPNs when you are on a public wifi network, and most importantly, using vigilance and common sense when you open attachments in emails. If you abide by all those steps, your personal security is definitely more secure than most people’s, but no set of tactics keeps you 100% safe.
If you want to take your personal data security to the next level but worry about any additional steps being too technical or complicated, personal encryption may be a good option. Not only is encryption good for your own personal safety, but it’s a way to make life in general harder for hackers. As security expert and Chief Technology Officer at IBM Resilient Bruce Schneier wrote on his blog: “Encryption should be enabled for everything by default, not a feature you turn on only if you’re doing something you consider worth protecting. If we only use encryption when we’re working with important data, then encryption signals that data’s importance. If only dissidents use encryption in a country, that country’s authorities have an easy way of identifying them. But if everyone uses it all of the time, encryption ceases to be a signal.”
Though it sounds complicated and highly specialized, there are a growing number of encryption tools that make it an easy and prudent step to take. As Gizmodo put it, “Despite some of the complicated math involved, encryption isn’t difficult to understand—simply put, it locks your files and data away using a secret code, just like a pair of spies might talk in code to hide what they’re really saying. If anyone else overhears that conversation, it sounds like gibberish, and it’s the same with encrypted files.”
So how does one go about making their files read as “gibberish” to outside parties? It’s easier than you might think.
Here are some easy data encryption steps to take:
Check if your device already has it enabled: A lot of devices already come with encryption as the default. iOS has been doing so for some time, while Android’s newer devices generally now come with encryption enabled. Go into the security settings on your device to double check that encryption is enabled on your phone.
Use a desktop encryption service: If your device doesn’t come with encryption, or you want to beef it up, consider installing a desktop encryption tool to lock down your files on your device (assuming you don’t store them on the cloud). You can choose to encrypt select files or your entire hard drive, but note that there is disagreement among experts on which of those two options is better.
LifeHacker has some top suggestions for services to use, including VeraCrypt, AxCrypt, BitLocker, GNU Privacy Guard, and FileVault for iOS.
Remember what encryption can’t do: Keep in mind that even once you’ve enabled encryption, nothing is a 100% secure. As LifeHacker put it: “Remember what encryption can’t do—it can’t secure your drive if it’s infected with malware, if you leave it turned on in public spaces, or if you’re using a weak password.” In other words, don’t let encryption be an excuse.
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