It is an unfortunate fact that data breaches go hand in hand with society’s increased use of technology. It is down to all of us to watch which companies and enterprises we trust our personal data with, and the actions we take to keep as much of our data to ourselves as possible.

How can your data actually be defined though? It can include pretty much any kind of personal information about yourself, such as your address, employment details or even banking details.

As an online messaging service, Guild takes pride in the seriousness with which it regards data protection. We explain this a bit more in the piece we wrote on Data Privacy Day.

Of course, most companies will do a stellar job of keeping your data protected. You won’t usually need to worry about a thing. However, large-scale and public data breaches such as those suffered by Yahoo, British Airways and Facebook, for example, are still relatively commonplace.

There’s not a lot you can do about determined hackers getting into the data systems of large corporations, but there are still some best practices you can follow to ensure you are being as safe as possible with your data.

Why do we need to be careful with our data?

It is important to be aware of the policies of each company you store your data with. This can also vary from region to region. Tinder, the famous online dating app, follows some pretty stringent rules in the UK and Europe - it has to disclose the data it holds about its users within 10 days. However, in the U.S, no such laws apply.

According to the findings of a French journalist, it has been known for Tinder to hold uncomfortable amounts of personal data. This might include age, gender, hobbies, people dated/spoken to over the last years, and previous addresses. Some may be perfectly happy with an organisation holding this information about themselves, but others may not.

The sheer number of companies which have experienced data breaches, including similar ones to Tinder - such as Ashley Madison and Adult Friend Finder - means that it is more important than ever to do what you can to keep your online information safe.

After its recent data breach, Equifax recommended to its customers certain protections like freezing credit reporting, conducting your own credit reporting online and of course, strengthening PIN numbers and passwords.

How is our data stored, and what might make it vulnerable?

Internet users are estimated to create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day, and more than 90% of all data stored online was created in the last three years, which means there is a rapidly increasing amount of data needing to be stored securely. This is usually done through the cloud (usually via a secure database which stores encrypted data).

Encrypted data is protected with a key, without which it makes no sense at all. When you log into an account, the key for your data is activated so that you can see it. These keys, protected by the respective organisations, are the pieces of information that hackers need to break in order to access personal data.

Any kind of flaw in the cloud’s security system can lead to a breakthrough for hackers, and a resulting data breach.

What can we do to keep our data as safe as possible?

Fortunately, there are things you can do in order to protect your data as best you can.

  • Make use of local encryption services. Cloud services are commonly used to protect data, but they leave themselves open to compromise. Spideroak, for example, offers local encryption with a 'zero-knowledge policy', meaning that the server's providers or administrators have no access to your data.

  • Try to have electronic backups for all data you have stored in the cloud, just in case it gets lost or stolen. Of course, sensitive data like passwords, PIN numbers and credit/debit card details are best left out of the cloud altogether.

  • Hackers usually break into personal data accounts because of easily guessable passwords. Ensure yours are strong and contain a mix of uppercase and special characters. There’s a reason you’re told to do this when creating passwords online, it’s not just to annoy you.

  • Install system updates on your devices when prompted. It can be irritating when a popup tells you that you need to make an update to your operating system, but these often come with the newest security patches.

There are many more little things you can do to be safer with your data - head to Digital Guardian for a list of 101 more data protection tips.

Photo by Rishabh Varshney on Unsplash.