How to Protect Personal Data on Computer Networks

Defeat hackers at work, at home, and when traveling

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To keep your data from being stolen over computer networks, take steps to prevent hackers from getting personal photos in the cloud, stealing credit card numbers from online transactions, or guessing passwords to financial accounts. Here's how to safeguard your digital information wherever you are.

The instructions in this article pertain generally to keeping data safe on computer networks. Check with your internet service provider (ISP), business technical consultant, and companies you do business with online for specific safety tips.

Protect Data at Home

Passwords are essential for keeping a home network safe. A secure password prevents strangers from gaining access to personal documents stored on a cloud server, reading email, or using any of this information to access financial accounts or opening new accounts. That last one is called identity theft, and it takes time and money to resolve.

Choose strong passwords for:

If your home network uses a Wi-Fi connection, protect it with WPA or better security options. Criminals and even neighbors can access a wireless network if it's unprotected. Also, check the wireless router periodically for any suspicious connection activity.

Protect Data at Work

Just as you see the names of neighbor’s routers when you go online at home, a company's network name can show up to others who get close enough. Wi-Fi signals can be picked up 100 feet or more outdoors with some basic equipment. Adjoining buildings that are open to the public or unoccupied are locations where data thieves set up shop.

Run a company Wi-Fi with strong security options like WPA2 if the network handles private business information such as product specs, financial transactions, and employee social security numbers. Setting up Wi-Fi security doesn’t take long, and it scares off hackers who lack advanced skills.

Additionally, teach employees to be on the lookout for anyone who tries to steal company and personal data.

Protect Data While Traveling

Travelers are susceptible to having their personal data stolen because they're distracted by unfamiliar surroundings and likely to use public networks.

To avoid theft, maintain the physical safety of your mobile devices:

  • Minimize the time your device is in open view. Keep phones, tablets, and other devices in pockets, bags, briefcases, or suitcases.
  • Avoid prying eyes. Enter usernames and passwords when no one is watching you. Also, avoid cameras that may be pointed at you or your device.
  • Lock up devices. When staying at hotels or when driving, keep belongings in a safe or other secure location.
  • Purchase a device case or carryall with travel-specific safety features. Many cases and carryalls have RFID blocking technology and TSA- approved locks.

Beware of public Wi-Fi hotspots. Some fool unsuspecting people into connecting and then steal the data they transmit. Ask for the correct spelling of the hotspot at that location, and don't perform sensitive transactions (such as banking) while logged in.

Also, subscribe to an online virtual private network (VPN) service, which encrypts network traffic to prevent all attackers from reading it.