It’s time to start practicing basic data hygiene.
Data hygiene sounds about as exciting as installing a dead-bolt lock on your front door or getting the oil changed on your car.
We do these steps because they are needed preventive steps – and the costs of not doing it are significant. We also do it because we know that having a home broken into or handbag stolen is not inevitable – there are specific steps we can take to reduce the chances of this happening. Lock the door, park in a secured area, have a car alarm, or even just placing a bag out of sight in the trunk.
Most of these steps are just common-sense ones. The same goes for your online privacy. “There are some very basic data hygiene methods that everyone can do,” explains Dr. Jef Ausloos, Research fellow at the Centre for IT & IP Law. His list of steps and tools includes updaters and security apps to keep hackers and malware out of your devices, a VPN to keep activities encrypted and out of sight, and a password manager to organize and protect your account passwords – even a sticker to put over the web cam.
While web-cam stickers might be pretty basic, there are some important differences between security products and the companies bringing them to market. Here are three basic pointers to keep in mind as you secure your privacy and your devices:
1. Pick tools from a company you can trust
Not all tools are equal – for your car or for your device. A cheap tool might look good but fail at the moment when it is really needed. The same goes for online privacy and security tools. Not all are created the same – and some can even harm your privacy. Before picking a tool, you should know whether the tool actually works, if it sells the data collected about users like you, and if it has had data breach in the past? The easiest way to answer these questions is with a quick web search. This will help you find a history of reviews from reputable sources, reports of user outages, and reports of selling user data.
2. How to select a beer – and a security company.
Picking a product – whether a beer or a security provider – can be complex. The easiest way is to simply pick the product with the best advertisements. That is what the Super Bowl is for, after all. Most people really don’t want to do their own exhaustive research analysis with a hops flavor chart. With security companies, the decision criteria are more complex yet more simple than with malted beverages. It comes down to “trust, but verify,” points out Claus Kaufman, director of network security at Avira. And in this verification process, finding out who is the investor behind the company, who is the management, and where they are based. Location does matter, especially when it comes to how your data is managed.
3. How to select a VPN – look at certification, leaks, and servers.
Everyone seems to be offering a VPN these days – so what is the big deal between them? A lot. People expect that a VPN should encrypt their activities, not log their activities, not leak the DNS addresses of where they go, and have enough servers to make being a virtual tourist really easy. There is no unified or legal standard for what a VPN should do. That’s why it’s important to get a VPN that has been certified by an independent testing agency to confirm that the privacy and security claims actually meet reality.
Under the hood, the way a VPN is constructed also has a direct impact on user privacy. VPN providers are positioned to suck up a lot of data on its users’ activities, says Mathias Ollig, CTO at Avira. “That’s why we strip ourselves of the ability to even know what our users are doing — we call it privacy by design.”
You can’t protect the privacy and security of your online data completely by yourself. You are going to need some tools in your data protection toolbox. The good news is that these tools have been fine-tuned to require almost no effort from you – other than to start using them. Unlike many technologies we encounter, they can also simplify your online life.
P.S. If you haven’t yet read the first part in this series – 5 Privacy Tips to Protect your Data Story, you can do that here.