These Five Things Will Make You More Secure
Privacy and security are hard to come by these days. We share information at a nauseating rate – nearly ninety percent of the U.S. population uses the Internet and some 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day. As data breach headlines and increased identity theft illustrate, however, many Americans have paid for our digital dependence by sacrificing certain aspects of our privacy and information security.
Fortunately, not all is lost. There are simple steps you can take in the future to better maintain your privacy and information security. And you will think twice before giving them up again. They can be accomplished by anyone, regardless of technological competence. Best of all, they are free.
- Enable two-factor authentication on all services that offer it, but at minimum, your email.
Two-factor authentication (2FA) provides a second layer of security when signing in with an unrecognized device. 2FA usually sends your phone text message with a unique code, which you use to log into the account and verify your identity. 2FA is particularly important in light of increased data breaches involving login information because it prevents a thief from accessing your account with only your username and password.
- Password protect everything.
This is the broader point behind the previous recommendation. If you have a device with a screen, use a password. If your unsecured device is stolen, you are making it too easy for the thief to steal your identity. A device without a password is the digital equivalent of leaving your home or car unlocked.
Locking devices with your biometrics (thumbprint, for example) is better than nothing, but a password is far superior. This is because the Fifth Amendment protects a right to remain silent but not the right to safeguard your biometrics. In other words, a court can compel you to use your thumbprint to unlock your phone, yet allows you to keep your password secret.
- Check your data breach status.
If you have seen data breach headlines and wondered if your information was stolen, look no further. HaveIBeenPwned.com lets you check your usernames and email addresses against lists from large known breaches. If your username or email address has been “pwned,” immediately change the password on the compromised account and on any other website where you used the same password. (Hint: Never use the same password for more than one website.)
- Keep your software up-to-date.
Software updates always seem to come at inconvenient times. But experts say keeping your software up-to-date is the most critical step you can take to boost security. In this way, updates are to security as oil changes are to cars.
What’s more, most devices feature automatic updates – you just need to turn them on.
- Ask why others need your information.
The comfort and frequency with which we share personal information is perhaps the biggest threat to privacy. We often share more information than the recipient needs. Whenever you are asked to provide personal information, ask whether it is necessary to disclose. For instance, it is common for health care providers to request your Social Security Number when completing paperwork. The truth is, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers want your Social Security Number for debt collection purposes. You are under no obligation to provide it. Similarly, almost every time retail stores ask for your physical or email address, they bundle and sell that information to marketers. In these scenarios and others, force yourself to question whether the recipient needs your information. If the answer is no, consider keeping it private.
 Jack Linshi, Why the Constitution Can Protect Passwords But Not Fingerprint Scans, Time (Nov. 6, 2014), http://time.com/3558936/fingerprint-password-fifth-amendment/; Marsha Hoffman, Apple’s Fingerprint ID May Mean You Can’t “Take the Fifth”, Wired (Sept. 12, 2013, 9:29 a.m.), https://www.wired.com/2013/09/the-unexpected-result-of-fingerprint-authentication-that-you-cant-take-the-fifth/.