Data Privacy Day, led by the National Cyber Security Alliance, is an international effort to create annual awareness about the importance of safeguarding your personal data. Everything from your full name, email, Social Security, passport, and driver’s license number are all important pieces that personally identify you.

The National Cyber Security Alliance offers these tips to help you “Own Your Privacy.”

1. Watch out for malicious emails

Scammers use emails to steal money and compromise your personal information. These emails are often called phishing or spear phishing attacks.

Traditional phishing attacks are emailed to the masses. They can appear to be from a reputable source like a financial institution, government agency, or an e-commerce site. They often use fear with phrases like “your account has been compromised” or “cancel your request immediately” to generate responses.

Spear phishing attempts are similar, but cybercriminals use personal information about you based on your internet and social media habits. These attacks come in the form of a personalized message to you.

Tips to avoid becoming a victim of phishing:

  • Don’t reveal personal or financial information via email—call the company instead. Do NOT ever respond to email solicitations seeking this information.
  • Use your resources—check out the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) to learn about known phishing attacks. Do NOT investigate the email using information provided in an email.
  • Contact the company directly by using information on an account statement, a company’s official website, or on the back of a credit card.
  • Search for the company online. Do not visit the website by clicking a link in the email.
  • Report it! When you’re at work, report emails you think may not be legitimate by using the “Report Email” button in Outlook.

2. Malware, Botnets, and Ransomware

The goal of an online scammer is to make money. In many cases, their emails or social media posts contain links that can put your device and personal information at risk. Below are some terms and tips to ensure the safety of your device and identity.

Malware, short for “malicious software,” disrupts or damages a device’s operation, gathers private information, or gains access to private computer systems. Two common forms of malware are viruses and spyware. Viruses are harmful programs transmitted to computers intended to give hackers access to your device. Spyware can download itself onto your computer without your knowledge. Spyware can track your online movements, steal your passwords, and compromise your accounts.

botnet is a larger network of malware-infected devices or bots that are all controlled remotely by hackers. Infected devices communicate and receive instructions from “command and control” computers, and are often designed to harvest data like passwords, credit card numbers, and other personal information.

To protect yourself from malware:

  • Keep it clean—having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system on your personal device is the best defense against viruses and malware.
  • Back it up—protect your valuable work, music, photos, and digital information by regularly making an electronic copy and storing them safely.
  • Plug and scan—USBs and external devices can also be infected by malware and viruses. After putting a foreign device in your computer, use your security software to scan it.

Finally, ransomware is a type of malware that accesses your computer files, locks and encrypts them, and then demands you pay money to get them back. Cybercriminals do this by getting you to click on attachments or links that appear legitimate, but actually contain malicious code.

To prevent this from happening to you:

  • Get two steps ahead. With two-step authentication, an extra layer of security is used to ensure people from a different location aren’t logging in to your account. It can be as simple as accepting a push notification on your phone.
  • Don’t click on attachments or links—resist the urge to click on any email links you are unfamiliar with.

3. Be careful when you shop online

While online shopping is convenient, it has created new opportunities for scammers. Here are some tips to safely shop online:

  • Do your research—when using a new website for purchases, read reviews to see if others have had a positive or negative experience with the website.
  • Use safe payment methods—credit cards are the safest option to use when paying online and allows you to seek a credit if the product never ships or isn’t what you ordered.
  • Protect your money—when shopping, check to make sure the site is security enabled. Websites with a padlock icon and addressed with “https://” indicate extra secure measures.


Guest blogger: Garrett Seymour

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