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How to Protect Your Information
American novelist Thomas Pynchon supposedly said, “Paranoia’s the garlic in life’s kitchen, right; you can never have too much of it.” However, taken too far, paranoia will cause one to miss out on many of the benefits of the modern age.
An acquaintance of mine is so concerned about the potential loss of his private data that he refuses to use a phone with texting or Internet capabilities, relies on paper checks and deposit slips to pay his bills, and uses a standalone computer without Internet. He drives a 2000 Mercedes C-Class and relies on a 120-pound German Shepherd for home security. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that will reduce the threat of information theft without losing the comforts and conveniences of modern technology.
Manufacturers typically ship computers and mobile phones with a particular operating system (OS). Most PCs ship with the latest version of the Windows operating system – currently Windows 10. Apple computers use the Mac operating system (currently macOS High Sierra for computers and iOS 10 for iPhones). Be aware that Windows is the most popular target for hackers, simply because it dominates the market (90.6% market share). As a consequence, many computer security professionals consider lesser known operating systems to be more secure. When configuring a new device or operating system, privacy settings should be the first order of business.
To make your device more secure, take the following steps.
1. Determine the Installed Operating System
If you decide to change the OS, you will need a bootable USB drive capable of overriding your current OS’s boot process. You may also need to reformat the hard drive to use the new OS. Before deciding to replace the existing OS, consider that it is closely aligned with the hardware. Furthermore, the developers of all operating systems are constantly upgrading the program to foil hackers and correct minor programming errors. Changing the OS may not be worth the time and effort involved to complete the process.
2. Keep Your OS Up-To-Date
Be aware of recent patches and fixes recommended by the OS vendor and regularly install the latest updates to protect against new malware. Run the latest OS version on your cell phone. Check for updates automatically if the option is available.
3. Review the Privacy Settings on Your Device
Developers are constantly upgrading user-controlled privacy and security settings on hardware. SecurityIntelligence recommends nine tips for Windows 10 users, and Macworld provides similar tips for the Apple operating system. Some experts recommend the MyPermissions tool as an easy solution to check your permission settings across a multitude of apps, receive reminders to clean undesired or out-of-date permissions with mobile-friendly apps, and get alerts when apps access your confidential information so that you can remove them with a single click. The tool is available for Microsoft, Apple, and Android operating systems.
4. Enable Remote Location and Device-Wiping for Mobile Devices
If your gadget is lost or stolen, tracking apps can tell you exactly where it is. These apps also let you wipe sensitive information remotely. “If your phone does end up landing in the wrong hands, you can at least make sure they don’t get your information,” says Kim Komando, host of a popular radio show about technology.
Use pass locks on your phone and rely on a full alphanumeric password. While biometric lock systems are becoming popular, most experts do not consider them as secure as a carefully designed password. Consider using a vault app – an application that hides data on a smartphone and requires a password – even though it theoretically could be cracked by an experienced, persistent hacker.
Disable Bluetooth when you’re not using it. According to Kaspersky Lab, the only way to completely prevent attackers from exploiting the permission request/grant process is to power off your device’s Bluetooth function when you’re not using it – not putting it into an invisible or undetectable mode, but completely turning it off.