More than 100 million PlayStation users trusted Sony with their credit card numbers, passwords and other personal information - only to have it stolen by hackers. The truth is even without hackers our information remains vulnerable: all it takes is a surge from a thunderstorm, a jolt from an earthquake - even spilled milk from a child - and your data could be wiped out. Since most of us aren't computer techs, how do we protect our most important information?
Keep It Simple
Back up your data to an external hard drive, then back up that hard drive to "The Cloud" with easy-to-use programs like Mozy, Carbonite or CrashPlan.
Having your data stored in "The Cloud" or web - as opposed to your local computer - not only safeguards your data against local mechanical failures, but several cloud-based storage programs offer file sharing options, giving you the ability to access your computer's data from anywhere.
Plus, the price of external hard drives has plummeted, making off-line storage increasingly affordable. Even at retail outlets like Best Buy you can pick up an entire terabyte of storage for around $100.
Most cloud-based backup plans fall in the $50-$60 range for personal use, depending on how much data you want stored. So for less than $150, you can sleep well knowing if your kids destroy your computer with a game of indoor football, you can restore everything from important documents to family pictures relatively quickly.
For those who don't want to add one more monthly fee to their lives, you could pay a bit more upfront and buy a Network Attached Storage Box (NAS), and create your own "Personal Cloud". Boxes like Buffalo CloudStor are easy to setup and give you 2 terabytes of private cloud storage for around $200 - but no monthly fees.
Securing Data At Home
If you're running Windows and want to keep the data secure on your computer, you could always use Microsoft's BitLocker, or its freeware counterpart
TrueCrypt. Both are easy to install and use, although it's hard to beat TrueCrypt's price.
Still worried about hackers?
The best way to safeguard your data from hackers is to use common sense. Here are a few tips that will help shore up your defenses.
- Don't share your primary email address with just anyone. If websites require registration before accessing certain content, have an email address that you specifically use for registering.
Take advantage of your email tools and filters. Gmail and Hotmail both allow you to use a plus sign and a descriptive word after the username so you know who is sending you mail. So if Home Depot requires an email to register, instead of
TomJones@Gmail.Com, you can register with
TomJones+HomeDepot@Gmail.com. That makes it easy to filter emails from Home Depot into its own folder, but also reveals if a company sold your email address - and mark it as spam.
- Be Aware of Phishing Attacks. If you get an email that's written in broken English or is peppered with spelling mistakes - just delete it. Even if the email sounds convincing, don't supply your username, password, account number or other sensitive information.
- Never click a link in an e-mail message. Phishing attacks often contain links that lead to what seems like legitimate websites that ask you to "correct" your personal information or create a new password when it's really just a hacker scheming to gather your information.
- Don't click on Facebook junk. Facebook scams prey on your curiosity and vanity: "Who is checking out your profile? Wanna see this banned video?" Before you know it they've accessed your profile, spammed all your friends and changed your password.
- Be vigilant. Check your accounts regularly - even your auto-pay accounts - for suspicious activity. Like all thieves, hackers try to lull you into complicity and strike when your guard's down.
- Use a password system. Having the same password for everything makes it easy for the hackers, but no one can keep 50 passwords in their head at all times, so what can you do?
- Use a system based on a phrase that means something to you - and personalize it depending on the website.
For example, if you enjoy arrabiata sauce, use "Arrabiata" as a base word. Then mess with it: Arr@biat@. Now make it website specific by using the first and third letters of the website you're visiting followed by a number. So if I'm logging into Best Buy, my password might be Arr@biat@BS7 - which is hard for to figure out, but relatively easy for you to remember. Try it!