Sarvpriye Soni, Director, Cove Identity

Sarvpriye Soni started his career 9 years back with uTrade Solutions, an India-based Fintech product firm. He is the co-founder Hashcove, a company focused on building various blockchain innovations. He also co-founded Cove Identity, a startup working to create a privacy-centred ecosystem with various innovative tools.

 

As the internet has grown in popularity, so has the number of people connected to it. Unfortunately, whether you are on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, there are inherent risks involved with being online. Cybersecurity breaches are common occurrences these days, and it only takes one careless click for a cybercriminal to get access to your personal information.

However, there are a few steps that you can take to strengthen your online privacy and keep your data safe.

Tip #1: Be smart about what you share and where you share it

While surfing the web, especially social media, you invariably share personal details. For example, you share your birthday and hometown on some platforms, while you share your education and family history on others. These pieces of information might not be worth a lot in isolation but reveal a lot about you when pieced together.

The internet is tricky to navigate, but the first rule should be to exercise caution and restrain. Before you fill out details about yourself, think if it is necessary or not. For example, to create an account on most social media platforms, you only need to share basic information like your name and email address. You are not mandated to share your family history, phone numbers, or other personal data. Or, if a website asks you to share something in return for a discount, stop and see if it is worth risking your privacy for.

Even the smallest bits of data can leave you vulnerable to cyberattacks. Hackers are trained to make sense of different pieces of information and can misuse them to any extent.

Tip #2: Keep an eye out for the red flags

Staying vigilant is one of the most important ways of protecting your online identity. Some scamming and hacking attempts have evident red flags that should put you on alert. For example, if you are getting a reward that is too good to be true, like a lottery. Or if a message evokes a sense of urgency, such as tax fraud, fine or significant service disruption. Another tip-off is the incorrect spelling in the message or email address, such as Amazom instead of Amazon.

Whenever you see such things, it is best to either ignore or verify from a credible source. For example, suppose if the message comes from your bank, call them up and ask them for details instead of opening the link and filling in the information. Even if you open the link, check if it starts with “HTTP://” or “HTTPS:”. The latter is an indicator that the site is safer to use. These red flags are commonly seen in phishing or social engineering scams, which happen to be some of the most prevalent cyberattacks.

Tip #3: Go beyond passwords, use two-factor authentication

Passwords generally act as the only line of defence against cybercrime. However, since attacks have become far more sophisticated, they are not enough. Two-factor authentication (2FA) has emerged as a reliable tool that safeguards accounts and personal information. 2FA works by adding another step to your online login process, such as an OTP, fingerprint scan, voice recognition, etc. So, in case unauthorised entities know your account credentials, they still cannot access the data since 2FA requirements will also have to be met. With the advent of authentication apps, 2FA can be applied to almost any online account.

2FA works best in tandem with strong, unique passwords. When creating passwords, ensure that they are different for different accounts, especially those containing sensitive data. Additionally, make them hard to guess so that even if one account is compromised, others remain safe. In case you have a hard time remembering passwords, use a reliable password manager.

Tip #4: Keep your devices and apps up-to-date

Many data breaches happen because of vulnerabilities in an app or software. They are essentially loopholes that can be exploited if hackers find them before the company can. Companies release security patches to take care of vulnerabilities, and this is why it is essential to keep all devices and apps up to date. Any new updates should be installed at the earliest.

People are generally proactive in keeping their computers up-to-date but sometimes forget about their mobile phones. Although, today, more than computers, our mobile phones carry a major chunk of our data. The Israeli spyware, Pegasus, exploited a WhatsApp vulnerability to reach their targets. Getting through to their mobiles was enough to reveal and track almost everything about them, from calls to messages to locations.

Tip #5: Store your data only on trusted platforms

Since Covid-19 shifted most services online, people have had to store and share their data online for easier accessibility. And this data is sometimes sensitive in nature, such as passport scans and health documents. To keep personal information safe, it is vital to use trusted platforms that ensure privacy. By flocking to “free”, unverified alternatives, you might end up doing more harm than good.

You can look for some signs to judge if the platform is worth using or not. For example, if it assures end-to-end encryption (E2EE), it will keep unwanted third parties at bay. E2EE uses a technology through which only the sender and receiver can decrypt messages to prevent any eavesdropping. Another good signal is a zero-knowledge system in place. This feature permits only the user to access their information. Even the server does not know what is stored; all it knows is that data is present. It is better to search and pay for good services rather than store critical information in unsafe places.

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