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Online Data Security: Lurking Threats and Safety Measures

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The Internet has revolutionized our lives in every possible and positive way we can think of. Although the Internet has become an inextricable part of our life, making it much convenient for us to shop online, renew car insurance, hunt for a job, or research for things that matter to us, there’s a dark side attached to it as well, i.e. loss of private information.

Do we really need to worry about our personal information that rests precariously on the Internet?

If you are a regular Internet user, you must have come across several websites asking for your personal information, like date of birth, email address, phone number, marital status, residential address, etc., before providing you the access to their content and offerings.

However, have you ever pondered over the fact that many of them don’t need your personal information to do business with you, but they still ask for it. And in many cases, users provide their personal information, thinking that their private information is safe as such websites strictly adhere to their privacy policy.

But in reality, your personal information, including bank details or credit card numbers that many people use to shop online on retail sites or mobile apps, is still subject to data leak or data hack. Whatever we do on the Internet, we leave a digital trail that can be exploited by data hackers or data miners. There’s also no denying the possibility of your data being sold by unscrupulous websites to book their profit.

We take emails as safe as the message content is protected by encryption technique. However, no encryption is used for the “metadata” that goes with the message as it’s required by the internet routing system. The metadata can reveal vital part of our private information we share through emails.

The big reason we need to worry about data security breach and hack attack is that our confidential information could go in wrong hands, putting us at the risk of fraud, identity theft, unsolicited selling and marketing, blackmail, etc. Since mobile is increasingly becoming the central medium of accessing the Internet, it’s also important to highlight the repercussions attached to it in terms of personal data extraction and misuse.

How do Mobile Apps get Access to Your Personal Data?

If you have ever installed an app from Google Play Store, you must have agreed to its endless “Terms and Conditions” before starting using it. Chances are high that you have never read them in full, like many of us who prefer to skip the long list of permissions Google Play apps, before accepting them.

By agreeing to “Terms and Conditions”, you actually allow those apps to get inadvertent access to your confidential information like contacts, messages (including bank transactions and one time passwords), photo/media files, device and app history, etc. It becomes important here to understand whether free apps are attempting to make money from in-app purchases or selling your data.

Think about a picture editing app that asks for permission to access your phone camera and media files. Well, it makes sense as the app requires the access to your mobile camera and media files in order to edit pictures saved in your mobile or to click a new picture it can edit. However, aren’t permissions required by a photo editing app to access unnecessary content, like contacts, messages or phone call details, enigmatic? There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be wary of such apps, right?

Many app developers also integrate third-party libraries that allow push ads and other content of external entities on their apps. Since attackers can easily exploit poorly written code of an app or third party libraries, chances of your personal data to be compromised increase by many folds.

Lesson Learnt: Several app developers or data miners can easily access and misuse your private information on the pretext of fulfilling app functionality and providing good mobile experience.

Measures Internet Users must take to Safeguard Privacy and Security Online:

  • Always use an effective and updated antivirus/antispyware software on a computer for entering account or other sensitive information, like bank details.

  • Before revealing your private information to a particular website, read the privacy policy carefully. And, if the site agrees to not share your data with external parties in exchange of money or any other benefit, then only give them your personal details.

  • Never enter confidential information on sites that do not have “https” in the beginning of their URLs. “S” means secure. Also, you should log out from secured sites after finishing your transaction.

  • Never use free hotspots for online banking or online shopping. Free, public wi-fi is too luring to ignore, but you never know who else is watching and tracking your online activity.

  • Cloud storage is also quickly picking pace, but it’s important to go for vendors that provide full protection and data backup against hack attacks.

  • Beware of unknown downloads as websites like torrent downloaders and streaming sites could pose a data-leak threat via ‘drive-by’ downloads. Without your knowledge, such websites download sniffers and keyloggers in the background that act as malware and track your keystrokes. To block such downloads, use an antivirus solution with a firewall.

  • For safe Internet browsing, keep deleting cookies from time to time. Using a virtual private network (VPN) is also a good measure to keep your IP address and user data protected by routing all your data through a proxy server.

  • Update privacy settings on social media sites and search sites, like Facebook and Google. As per default privacy settings, your information is shared publicly. You can allow your personal information to be seen by fewer people or those you trust by making changes under a “settings” menu option.

  • Use strong passwords and regularly change them. Never reveal your passwords or other confidential information on texts, emails or phone.

  • Phishing attacks have become common. So, if an email appears to be suspicious and asks for your personal details, check the company details before furnishing it with the information it’s asking for. It could be an attempt to divulge your personal information for misuse. Also, never use your work email address for personal use.

  • If you often make purchases online, don’t save your payment information for future purchases.

Data broking is a fast growing industry and generates approximately $200-billion per year now. It’s true that we value the convenience the Internet has added to our lives. But, it’s also true that the Internet has become a double-edged sword now and could hurt us if not handled with care.

What according to you Internet users can do more to avoid their personal data being misused or hacked? How big do you think data security breach threat is? Your views are highly welcome, please add them in the comment box below.

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