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How to avoid turning your personal data into a hacker’s goldmine

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As our digital lives expand and personal information becomes susceptible to theft, how do we go about protecting our data?

Cybercrime is a constant and ever-growing threat. We’re told this time and again by technology experts, law enforcement officials and researchers, but it’s easy to discount these warnings, or to think that they don’t apply to us. “Why would anyone bother to hack me?” many people ask; “I’m not rich or important enough to bother with.”

As comforting as that notion may be, the truth is that no one is too small for cybercriminals. The reason is that today’s hackers are after personal data. Email addresses, passwords – even seemingly innocuous information like your name and address is sought by cyber thieves.

What’s more, they don’t have to target you specifically – many tactics and tools employed by hackers are designed to run autonomously, with little to no input from the thieves behind it. This could be a malicious website, for example, that tricks you into visiting it in order to install malware on your PC or to harvest your personal details.

But why do hackers want our personal information in the first place? The answer, unsurprisingly, is money. Once they’ve harvested enough people’s personal data, cybercriminals can sell databases full of these records on dark web marketplaces. These records are commonly bought by fraudsters, who use the info to set up bogus credit cards and purchase cars under false names, or to make phishing emails more believable. Stolen login credentials for seemingly unimportant accounts also provide a way for attackers to gain access to other accounts – for example, if you use the same password at work.

If you want proof of how important your personal data is in this day and age, look no further than the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). This set of new rules and regulations governs how companies are allowed to gather and use your personal information, and imposes steep penalties for misusing it, including fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global turnover.

Furthermore, see the global furore over the fact that Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica to harvest the details of at least 30 million people without their knowledge or consent. In fact, Facebook itself is an excellent example of how people’s personal information can be used as currency.

A good illustration of this in action is the Data Dollar Store, a social experiment set up by cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab on London’s Old Street for two days in 2017. The pop up venue accepted personal data as currency, meaning the only way to buy its range of t-shirts, mugs and prints, specially designed by well-known street artist Ben Eine, was to part with private WhatsApp conversations, photos or similar information.

This experiment made end users actually think about the value of their personal data, and what they were willing to hand over, knowing that it would be made publically viewable. The point being that we should all be thinking carefully whenever we hand over personal data, both in the physical and digital worlds.

Given that your data can be so valuable, it’s important to be mindful of how criminals gather it without your knowledge. One of the chief ways that criminals gain access to your information is by breaking into one of your online accounts. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that they don’t necessarily need to break into an account that holds any sensitive data.

Unfortunately, many people use the same (or similar) passwords for most of their online accounts. Criminals know this, and the first thing that most cyber criminals will do when they come into possession of the account details for one service is immediately attempt to use those credentials to log into other services, such as email and bank accounts.

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Physical devices are at risk of this, too. Most wireless routers and connected gadgets come with a default password that’s used for changing settings, which is freely available online. If you don’t change this, hackers can potentially hijack your Wi-Fi network, snooping on all of your web browsing.

Of course, remembering a different password for every device and service you use is hard enough, let alone ensuring they’re all complex enough to withstand a brute-force attack. Thankfully, there are tools available which mean you don’t have to.

Kaspersky Password Manager, for example, allows you to create and store multiple alphanumeric passwords in a single, secure repository. All you have to do is remember one master password to access all of them – many password managers will even automatically fill in your username and password on any sites that you have saved.

“Passwords are the keys to our digital life,” Kaspersky Lab’s senior security researcher David Emm says. “It’s vital that we use a unique, complex password for every online account – a weak password allows a cybercriminal to steal your online identity.”

Public Wi-Fi can be a big risk, too. If you’re working from a remote location, or you’re on a mobile contract with a limited data allowance, it can be tempting to use free public Wi-Fi from a coffee shop or other location. However, this can be a goldmine for cybercriminals. It’s not difficult for hackers to spoof the identity of a public Wi-Fi hotspot, disguising their own network as a legitimate one and waiting for unsuspecting victims to connect to it, then secretly watching everything they do while connected.

This tactic can be thwarted by using a virtual private network, or VPN. These services encrypt all of your web traffic before sending it over the network, meaning that even if there are any hackers attempting to spy on your web traffic, they won’t be able to see anything you’re doing.

It’s not just your web traffic that hackers can spy on either; if you’ve got an unsecured webcam, it can be remotely accessed and used to watch everything you’re doing. This is such a prevalent issue, in fact, that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg covers the webcam on his laptop with tape – a tactic that many security experts have also adopted.

Making sure that you’re not being snooped on is especially important when you’re working with any financial information. Now that so many of us use online shopping and banking services, it’s easier than ever for cyber criminals to secretly harvest the bank details of unsuspecting, unprotected victims.

“Our digital devices are a vital part of our life,” David Emm warns, “so it’s essential to protect them. It’s particularly important to secure sensitive online transactions such as banking and shopping. Kaspersky Safe Money provides added security for such transactions – checking that the site you’re on is legitimate, that the connection to the site is secure, that there are no vulnerabilities that could undermine your transaction.”

Security can be an overwhelming topic, with so many different threats and so many devices to protect, and simply installing antivirus on your home PC isn’t enough any more. Instead, in order to keep yourself safe, you need a comprehensive security solution combining multiple different types of protection for all of your devices.

Thankfully, products like Kaspersky Total Security offer a one-stop-shop for users looking to defend themselves against cyber thieves, combining essential tools like a password manager, a VPN, privacy safeguards and even features to help you back up your data and free up space on your PC.

For example, if you’re creating a new password, it will tell you if it’s not strong enough to be secure and help you generate a better one. Even better, it includes the aforementioned Kaspersky Password Manager to keep track of all of your complex passwords for you, and if a service you use is affected by a data breach, it will alert you to that fact, allowing you to change your password before your account can be compromised.

Similarly, the system will alert you if it detects an unknown device connecting to your home network. It can even advise you when there are updates available that fix vulnerabilities within the apps on your device. Built-in webcam protection is also included, preventing hackers from remotely spying on you without your knowledge.

The way hackers operate has changed; they’re now using multiple different tactics, and targeting all of your devices. If you want to stay secure, you need to invest in a security system that can keep up with all of your technology and all of the ways you use it. Kaspersky Total Security offers a robust selection of tools and services to safeguard multiple elements of your digital life, from passwords and privacy to money and malware, helping you stay one step ahead of the hackers.

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