For the average person, the digital world is both a second home and uncharted territory. Our everyday lives take place online, from the way we communicate with loved ones to how we find information and share content at work. So many of the technological advances mankind has made in the last couple of decades have made our lives exponentially more convenient, and most people just accept them unaware of how they might be exposing themselves to serious security threats. The unfortunate side to these conveniences are that certain apps and behaviors could put personal and corporate data at risk.
So what are the everyday risks of our digital lifestyles, and how can people protect themselves and their data? Here are three major risks to online security.
Unsecured Chat Programs
Smartphones and tablets are everywhere, and have contributed to the exploding popularity of mobile messaging apps. Reports on active users show that hundreds of millions of people are using apps like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger to chat with friends, family, and even colleagues in the workplace; but, can consumers and businesses trust that conversations on these apps are private?
Last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) produced a “Secure Messaging Scorecard,” evaluating popular messaging products by security criteria. The report found that while most consumer messaging apps include some basic levels of protection, nearly all of the most popular tools on the market lack full end-to-end encryption.
So while your messages may be encrypted in transit, the app provider may actually be able to read your conversation if they have access to your encryption keys. Some messaging providers also lack forward secrecy measures, meaning they continue to store past conversations even after you’ve deleted your local copy according to the EFF.
To avoid these risks, you need to verify that you have full control over how your conversations are protected. Secure messaging apps encrypt communication end-to-end, protecting your messages with a unique encryption key that only you have access to. That means no one – not even the vendor – will be able to access your private conversations. End-to-end encryption also enables better forward secrecy, ensuring a chat you deleted two months ago isn’t still saved in some unknown server.
Sharing Files over Third-Party Apps
Our personal and professional lives aren’t so separate anymore. With technology allowing staff to be productive both in and out of the office, today’s workforce is much more mobile. Cloud file sharing is one tool that allows you to share work documents and collaborate on any device, but businesses – especially those in regulated industries – remain concerned about security. According to a KPMG survey, 53 percent of executives consider data privacy risks the biggest challenge of doing business in the cloud.
Those worries aren’t unwarranted, as a number of popular file sharing solutions have made headlines recently for major security vulnerabilities that resulted in data loss or exposure. For example, think about how many file sharing tools that allow you to share links to content through third-party platforms, like an email account. Although these links are meant to be accessible only to approved users, hackers have been able to access private information through these links. Vendors have tried to patch up the gaps, but ultimately there’s always going to be an inherent risk when you widely broadcast the exact location of your private information. It’s best to avoid this risk altogether by using file sharing solutions that allow you to share files and their location without ever having to leave the platform.
Storing Data on Your Mobile Device
Most consumers still aren’t securing their phones and tablets with any level of sophistication, which can leave the data stored on those devices vulnerable to loss or attack.
A Consumer Reports survey found that only 15 percent of consumers protect their smartphones with antivirus, leaving most devices defenseless to malicious software. According to the report, millions of smartphone users each year experience “undesired behavior” on their phones, which could include the accessing of secure accounts, or the sending of unauthorized text messages.
Additionally, 69 percent of consumers don’t back up the content on their phone, meaning it could be lost forever if something were to happen to the device. Cloud storage with end-to-end encryption is the safest way to ensure sensitive data is protected from malicious software, and retrievable even if your device is lost.
As digital becomes the preferred setting for work and play, consumers will need to exercise care in how they secure sensitive data and go about their everyday communications. That involves being more aware of digital security risks, and more selective with the platforms you choose to trust with your personal information.
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