Data privacy day - 5 things you can do to keep your data from being hacked
2016 saw massive data breaches affecting millions across the globe, raising concerns over data protection and privacy iStock

The internet has become an increasingly hostile environment over the past few years. 2016 saw massive data breaches affecting millions across the globe, raising concerns over data protection and privacy. Data Privacy Day, established by the European Council in 2007, aims at raising awareness among people about the importance of protecting one's private and sensitive data in an age where hackers reign supreme.

Cybersecurity is now one of the major concerns of governments across the globe. Political hacking scandals, such as those that made headlines during the US presidential election, have spurred EU nations to ramp up cyber defences. What is more, with the escalating number of hacked databases making their way onto dark web marketplaces, people across the world have fallen victim to cybercrime.

Stolen account credentials are often sold on the dark web by malicious hackers and can also be used for a variety of criminal activities, including identity theft and financial crime. It is now imperative for everyone, even those with limited infomation security (infosec) skills to adopt safe security practices in their everyday lives to protect themselves from hackers.

IBTimes UK has compiled a list of five simple steps that you can take to ensure that your data remains safe from cybercriminals.

Use a secure internet connection

It is imperative to ensure that when browsing the internet, you are using a secure internet connection. Although the lure of public Wi-Fi may be hard to resist, the risks that come with it are immense. Remember to use strong passwords for your home and office Wi-Fi networks, change the passwords once every three to six months, and ensure that the passwords are lengthy and unique. Additionally, when using public Wi-Fi, refrain from downloading any third-party apps, as these may sometimes come with malware that can infect your device and steal data.

Use two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (TFA) is now a widely available security measure adopted by most tech service providers. Whether they are emails or social media accounts, using TFA enhanced your accounts' security. Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and others offer users this option, which can be activated with just a few simple steps.

In addition to your regular password, TFA requires you to enter a code before your account is logged in. The second code can be sent to your phone as a text message or is generated using a special app.

Beware of phishing scams

Spearphishing scams have risen exponentially recently, mainly because they are an effective means for hackers to infiltrate accounts. Just ask John Podesta, the US democratic politician, who had thousands of sensitive and private emails stolen by clicking on just one malicious link.

Phishing emails often appear legitimate, as they are designed to, with messages purporting to be from officials or friends and requesting personal information. It is always simpler to verify before replying to such messages and/or clicking on links attached.

Back up your data

Backing up data is always a highly recommended and safe practice. With escalating ransomware attacks, data backup is often the only solution. Although security researchers have been successful in some instances, in decrypting ransomware strains, this is not true for every malware strain. In most cases, there is no other option for a ransomware victim but to pay up hackers their demanded ransom to get back access to their stolen data. This is where a complete data backup can save your skin. It ensures that in cases where data is lost, you have access to important information stored on an alternate device or cloud account. However, remember to keep this device or cloud account secure, preferably not linked to any of your online accounts.

Don't reuse passwords

Password reuse is one of the riskiest behaviours to be engaged in. Reusing passwords for various accounts can be highly dangerous, especially if one of your accounts' credentials falls into the hands of hackers, who could then use the same passwords to gain access to other accounts.

So it is imperative that you use unique passwords for each of your accounts. Ensure that they are lengthy and contain a mixture of characters, numbers and symbols. If possible, use password generators to enhance the strength of your passwords.

A recent report by Risk Based Security revealed that the US leads the world in data breaches, closely followed by the UK. The report highlighted that in 2016 over 4.2 billion user records were exposed in over 4,000 breaches. The numbers indicate the alarming intensity at which hackers target user data. It is 2017 and there is no excuse for not being aware of and adopting good security practices in your daily life. So, stay secure and keep browsing.