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We’re storing increasingly more personal data on services and on our devices every day and this means having strong security is essential.
In 2016, my advice is to “lock it down.”
If there was one recurring story this year it is the increasing number of data breaches. I feel like we’ve been here before. Despite all of our advances, the tech that makes our lives better relies on old paradigms, that is, we still rely on passwords to secure our data. Despite all our hardware advances, we still use a (mostly) terrible system of securing ourselves online. It’s unreasonable to suggest we simply stop working online because of security concerns; instead the best thing to do is focus on securing yourself.
The fact is, as devices become more personable we are putting much more personal data in the hands of others. With data breaches becoming more common, it seems reasonable to ask yourself questions like “am I OK with this data getting into the hands of others?” And even without data breaches, do you know what the companies you’re entrusting your health, banking and personal data with are doing with that information?
It all begins to sound a little bit like fear mongering on my part, and I don’t want anyone to abandon these legitimately helpful services on the sake of security alone, but there are some reasonable steps to take to make sure your data is as secure as possible, and it all begins with simply making sure you’re at least setting a passcode, pin number or other security measure on your mobile devices. You can also set up remote security and wipe features to make sure if your device is lost or stolen, your data cannot be accessed.
Communication is the real innovation
At the end of a calendar year, it’s easy to fixate on the latest releases, the newest smartphones and the best apps, but this year, it’s been painfully obvious that social media has, once again, been the real innovation.
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t fixed by simply securing your devices with a passcode.
Perhaps nowhere was this more apparent than in Brazil where a judge ordered a 48-hour blackout of the popular social messaging app WhatsApp. Tech Crunch reported the halt in service affected approximately 93 percent of the country’s Internet population, or some 93 million people. The use of the app is so pervasive there have even been cases of politicians trying to umm…run their constituencies with it (unsuccessfully).
State actors and agencies have long realized the difficulties in controlling social media and the new breed of communication services like WhatsApp and the problem this lack of control poses. The challenge with anyone having the authority to turn these services on and off is that it not only limits people’s ability to communicate freely with each other, but it also limits their ability to speak out, express their concerns, and hold leaders accountable. It also raises the same concerns we’ve been talking about — just how secure is your personal data and information?
What can we actually do about it?
To their credit, technology companies including social media have fought tirelessly for the rights of their users. It was WhatsApp’s refusal to divulge user information that prompted the judge in Brazil to order its country-wide shutdown. And, Google’s transparency report for 2015 shows a 45 percent increase in requests for information by U.S. officials. That doesn’t mean all the requests are granted, in fact, it’s quite the opposite, unless you live in Canada, where it has been reported that requests for information are granted much more frequently. But it’s relatively safe to believe big technology companies are doing what they can to protect your data. The rest is up to you.
Since most websites and services still rely on passwords to protect user accounts, one solution is simple: use strong passwords. And use password apps to help you create and save them. LastPass is a great free option for password saving, and 1Password is a fantastic alternative if you’d rather keep your passwords on your local machine rather than storing them on a server.
The purpose of this column is not to scare you into abandoning the services and apps that make your life easier – whether it’s communication, banking, or fitness and health tracking – they all have massive benefits if used properly. Instead, take this as a reminder to change your weak passwords, and never assume a breach can’t happen to you.