7 ways to protect your digital identity

By Allstate

Last updated: January 1

Today, the Internet plays a bigger role in our lives than it did just a decade ago. But, our digital lifestyles can come with potential threats, from identity theft to data breaches. Here are some tips you can follow to help keep your information safe and protect your digital identity.

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1. Safeguard your social security number

You may want to consider doing a few things to help safeguard your Social Security number. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), it's a good idea to leave your Social Security card at home and in a secure place. You may also want to ask why a Social Security number is needed before sharing it. For example, it may not be necessary to provide your child's Social Security number to register for the school year or to enroll in after-school activities.

2. Get security software that updates automatically

As efforts to outmaneuver identity thieves evolve, so do the thieves' tactics. The FTC says one way to help combat this is to make sure the security software, operating system, browsers and apps on your computer and smartphone are up to date. This may help protect your devices against potential identity thieves who try to take advantage of bugs or security holes in outdated software, systems or browsers.

3. Set up an external drive for data storage

The FTC suggests backing up your computer data to an external hard drive. You may want to also consider printing off your most important files, such as financial documents and family photos. That way, if your digital copies are compromised, you'll have hard copies. Be sure to store the drive or hard copies in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.

4. Use an encrypted connection

Guard online transactions by only sharing personal information on websites that use encryption. Not sure if a website is encrypted? Check your browser's status bar. A "lock" symbol means that your data can be safely exchanged. The FTC also warns that you should be careful when using public wireless (Wi-Fi) networks. These unsecured networks generally mean anyone can see what data you send and receive (unless you are visiting an encrypted website). Save personal financial transactions, like checking a bank account balance, for secure networks.

5. Choose secure passwords

How often do you change the password for your email address? How many times do you reuse the same password on multiple sites? Do your passwords contain upper and lower case letters, symbols, numbers, or, preferably, a combination of all four?

While these things may seem like a hassle, they are important. Hackers can run programs to help guess your password, often gaining access to personal information like your address, birthday, phone number or credit card numbers, says the California Attorney General's Office. Changing your passwords regularly and making them hard to guess may help deter hackers. The FTC suggests thinking of a phrase or word and then substituting numbers and symbols for some of the letters.

6. Think twice before downloading an app

Even the apps on your mobile devices may be a potential opportunity for hackers to steal your information. Some apps may appear innocuous, even gaining fake rave reviews in the app store. But once you've downloaded the app, it may infect your phone with malware. Some signs of malware may include your phone sending out texts or emails that you didn't write or finding additional mysterious apps on your phone that you did not download, says the FTC.

The FTC advises that you only download well-established apps from reputable companies.

7. Use social media safely

Social media sites may serve as entry points for identity thieves. Because of this, you should avoid oversharing on social media, the FTC advises. Make sure your profiles do not list personally identifiable information (PII), such as your full name, birthday or other important account numbers. As a general rule, the less information about you that's publicly available online, the safer your digital identity may be.

Your data is a valuable asset. Taking a few proactive steps may help safeguard your digital identity.