How to Protect Your Personal Data on Computer Networks

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Whether it is personal photos in the cloud, credit card numbers from online transactions, or someone guessing your password, stories of people and businesses having their data stolen over computer networks abound. Network technology has become increasingly sophisticated yet it seems not quite smart enough to protect you when you really need it most. Here are some ideas for how to safeguard your digital information where ever you are.

Protecting Your Data at Home and in the Cloud

Passwords are both a nuisance and an essential feature of keeping your home network safe. Choose good passwords for all home computer and your broadband router. Then, imagine how you would feel if a stranger was able to read all of your email. Using good passwords for online accounts will also deter people from trying to access files kept in the Internet cloud.

Got wireless? If your home network uses any Wi-Fi connections, be sure to protect them with WPA or better security options. Neighbors can easily hook into a wireless network if you leave it unprotected. Also, check your wireless router occasionally to look for any suspicious connection activity: Criminals can break into them from the apartment downstairs or from a car parked across the street.

Protecting Data at the Office

Your business could have the best-trained security guards, most trustworthy employees, and strongest locks on the server rooms -- but still totally fail at protecting company secrets.

Most Wi-Fi networks spray data everywhere. Just like you sometimes see names of other people’s routers pop up on devices inside your living room, nosy neighbors can reach a company’s wireless access points if they get close enough.

Seen any strange vehicles in the parking lot lately? Wi-Fi signals that bleed through walls can often be picked up 100 feet or more outdoors with some basic equipment. Are any adjoining buildings open to the public or unoccupied? These are great locations for data thieves to set up shop, too.

Running your Wi-Fi with strong security options like WPA2 is a must for any network that handles private business information such as product specs, financial transactions, and your employee’s social security numbers. Setting up Wi-Fi security doesn’t take long, and it scares off the many wannabe hackers out there who lack skills. Another great way to protect your wireless network is for all employees to keep on the lookout for anyone trying to sniff your data.

Protecting Your Data While Roaming

Travelers are most susceptible to having their personal data stolen simply because they are often in unfamiliar surroundings and distracted. Maintaining the physical safety of mobile devices should be your primary focus here. Minimize time spent having your phone out in open view to avoid tempting thieves. Watch for people behind you watching and trying to capture a password you’re typing. Keep your belongings locked or in plain sight while staying at hotels or when driving.

Beware of public Wi-Fi hotspots too. A few hotspots may appear legit but are actually operated by criminals with the goal of fooling unsuspecting people into connecting. When connected to a rogue hotspot, the operates can spy on all of the data you transmit over the connection including passwords any other unprotected personal data they submit online while logged in. Try to limit your activity to hotspot locations recommended by friends or affiliated with well-known retailers. Also consider subscribing to an online Virtual Private Network (VPN) service, which garbles network traffic in ways that prevent all but the most determined attackers from reading it.