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Srikanth Samudrala

Srikanth Samudrala, CTO and Co-Founder, eKincare.

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Ensuring Personal Security in an Era of Data Mining

In the digital world, it is always better to be safe than be sorry; more so in this era, where everything we do is connected to technology in some way or the other.

The uproar that began with the news of Facebook data being unethically and illegally mined by the British firm, Cambridge Analytica, is unlikely to die down anytime soon. Personal data of over 87 million Facebook users has been accessed by this firm to further the interests of its clients that include entities that play with big numbers and seek to monetise such information for business gains.  

For an individual user, who may not be well versed in the nuances of data brokerage, the implications may not be immediately obvious. After all, how does sharing snippets of personal history and preferences compromise one’s online security, and who would be interested in gaining access to such details? The algorithms that control and alter newsfeed, based on a user’s online behaviour are complex, and created with the specific intent of predicting consumer behaviour. Every user of any social networking site is a potential customer for multiple companies. By collecting the browsing pattern of people, social networking sites are able to lure advertisers by sharing data and analytics. You may search for something on Google, and the next time you visit some other site, ads related to the earlier search will start popping up. This is a part and parcel of today’s marketing strategy and happens across platforms on the internet.   

The threat intensifies manifold when the implications of sensitive personal information breach are considered. The first question, of course, is who can access information stored in one’s laptop and phone, and the next question is how. The internet is the gateway connecting an individual to the worldwide web, and the reverse is equally true. Like one can access information on just about anything by logging on to the internet, anybody can steal information from computers or mobiles by reversing the process through the same gateway. 

Simple steps to safeguard your data from any leaks

Malicious programmes that are used to invade personal computers include viruses, trojans, spyware and worms. Each of these is designed with a specific intent. The best way to keep your device relatively free from such malware is by using antivirus software from trusted sources. Downloading free antivirus, or any software for that matter, from little known or fake sites can do more harm than good. Downloading such software can immediately transfer all personal data to malicious third party servers, compromising security. 

Antivirus software, however, protects only the machine from external attacks, but cannot prevent any data leak while browsing. To fortify browsing sessions, it is best to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that shields personal data and browsing pattern from prying eyes by encrypting information exchange. It also adds a layer of security by replacing the user’s IP (Internet Protocol) address with that of its own. 

The next security check that should be done compulsorily is checking for SSL security when accessing sites, particularly e-commerce portals. SSL stands for Secure Socket Layer and can be verified by confirming whether the website URL is preceded by ‘http’ or ‘https’. The former (http) is a site that has not been secured, and can potentially cause data breach. Https sites use cryptographic protocols to secure connection between the user and server. Many sites shy away from adding the security layer to cut down on costs, exposing their visitors to data breach.

Emails, or pop-ups, claiming that the user has won a bumper lottery or a high-value prize or an exotic holiday should always be treated with suspicion. Nobody gives away money or grand prizes for free. These emails are hoax, and are used by hackers to collect personal information like address, date of birth, bank details, and email login credentials to steal identity and wealth. It is dangerous to click on any email or pop-up that looks too good to be true. The best practice is to report them as scam, and forget about the bonanza.

While browsing, occasionally there are pop-ups mentioning that the site uses cookies. Cookies are tracking codes that websites use to monitor online browsing habits, and this data, gathered surreptitiously, can be shared with third parties, without the knowledge or consent of the user. It is a good practice to keep deleting cookies from the computer frequently.  

Finally, one should safeguard personal safety by always keeping software and apps up-to-date. Reliable developers are conscious of the safety of their users, and update products to tackle the menace of data leak. Last, by definitely not the least, passwords should never contain any personal data like date of birth, Aadhar number, PAN number, name or any other information that can be used by hackers. In the digital world, it is always better to be safe than be sorry; more so in this era, where everything we do is connected to technology in some way or the other.     

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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