Protecting yourself from inevitable data breaches is easier than you think

It’s tempting to give up on data security altogether, with all the billions of pieces of personal data – Social Security numbers, credit cards, home addresses, phone numbers, passwords and much morebreached and stolen in recent years. But that’s not realistic – nor is the idea of going offline entirely. In any case, huge data-collection corporations vacuum up data about almost every American without their knowledge.

As cybersecurity researchers, we offer good news to brighten this bleak picture. There are some simple ways to protect your personal data that can still be effective, though they involve changing how you think about your own information security.

The main thing is to assume that you are a target. Though most individual people aren’t specifically being watched, software that mines massive troves of data – enhanced by artificial intelligence – can target vast numbers of people almost as easily as any one person. Think defensively about how you can protect yourself from an almost inevitable attack, rather than assuming you’ll avoid harm.

What’s most important now?

That said, it’s unproductive and frustrating to think you must pay attention to every possible avenue of attack. Simplify your approach by focusing on what information you most want to protect.

Covering the obvious, keep your software up-to-date. Software companies issue updates when they fix security vulnerabilities, but if you don’t download and install them, you’re leaving yourself unprotected from malware such as keystroke loggers. Also, be smart about what links you click in your email or when browsing the web – you could inadvertently download malicious software to your phone or computer, or allow hackers access to your online accounts.

In terms of online data, the most important information to protect is your login credentials for key accounts – like banking, government services, email and social media. You can’t do much about how well websites and companies safeguard your information, but you can make it harder for hackers to get into your account, or at least more than one of them.