Three lessons on digital security in a digital world

The news today often features countless headlines that share a very common and sometimes troubling theme: digital security. With roughly 95 per cent of Canadians under 45 using the internet daily and expanding their digital footprints with each click, understanding cyber security and how to safeguard one’s privacy online is more important than ever.

Interested in protecting your digital security and privacy? Read on for tips that can help make a difference in our digital world.

“Alexa, teach me about my digital environment”

First, let’s consider our digital environment. Love it or loathe it, it’s a fact of life that we are surrounded by digital technology. And we continue to see exponential growth in smart devices –known as the “Internet of Things,” or IoT – including watches, appliances and even vehicles. While IoT technology makes our lives easier, it often comes with a price that may not be initially obvious to some users; most noticeably, the collection and sharing of data. Furthermore, ever-present smart assistants, like Siri and Alexa, means that, now more than ever, your data may be more exposed than you realize.

As a consumer of connected devices, it’s important to know how your devices collect, store and transmit your data, so you should take time to read and adjust privacy settings. Additionally, apart from smart home security devices, turn connected devices off when they’re not in use – especially those with microphones and cameras, or connected toys that your children may be using.

If you’ve already taken a step into the future and are on first-name basis with your smart assistant, you can take steps to delete your voice command data via your online account. You can even ask your assistant to “stop listening,” and Alexa-enabled Echo devices have a clearly visible physical button that will turn off the microphone at a moment’s notice, allowing you to protect your privacy when it comes to sensitive conversations.

Making time for terms and conditions is worth it

In the same way you value the ingredients in your food, it’s also important to understand what you and your family are agreeing to when it comes to digital technology. If you don’t already, start keeping up to date with the privacy terms and conditions that different applications and websites ask you to agree to.

Sometimes terms and conditions can be hard to digest, but there are steps you can take to be more informed of what you’re committing to when you click “accept.” Sites such as the community-funded https://tosdr.org/ are a good starting point if you’re feeling intimidated by the length of specific terms of service. The site’s anonym, tosdr, actually stands for “Terms of Service; Didn’t Read,” and it rates and reviews for you the terms and privacy policies of commonly used websites. Other downloadable software tools such as EULAlyzer (analyzer of end user license agreements) highlight important words and phrases you should pay attention to, including “third parties” “opt-out” and “waive,” or sections written in all caps.

All this being said, it’s important to understand there really is no direct substitute for reading the full terms before clicking, “I agree.” It’s crucial to stay as informed as possible and to protect your data as best you can, even if it means taking the necessary time to sift through the legalese.

Take control of your sharing

If it isn’t clear yet, the truth is: data privacy issues affect all of us. We are constantly feeding apps and websites our personal data, intentionally or not, through enabled location-tracking, browsing history or social media preferences. You name it, we’ve probably shared it.

But it’s not too late to gain control by being thoughtful about what you share and how you share it. This can be done in a number of ways, depending on how seriously you take your digital security and privacy. Here are five quick tips:

  1. An initial (and very simple) step is to be mindful about personal details you share online – for instance, your full date of birth and your vacation information.
  2. Regularly change your passwords, install anti-virus software and keep your browser and operating system up to date.
  3. Use the privacy feature in your web browser to keep your browsing history private – this lets you use the internet without leaving a trail behind.
  4. Turn off location tracking in apps that don’t need it to work properly.
  5. Lastly, one of the best ways to protect your online data is by using a virtual private network, or VPN, which encrypts your internet connection, preventing you from being tracked online.

With the hectic nature of everyday life, these steps may take a back seat on your to-do list. That said, it’s important to prioritize these actions, pay attention to what we do (or do not) share online – and ultimately, own our digital presence.