In today’s data-driven world, cybercriminals everywhere are desperate to get their hands on your PII – or personally identifiable information. In the wrong hands, this information can be used to steal your identity or hack into your private accounts, creating chaos and costing you money.

But with technology standards and hacking methods changing all of the time, how can we keep up to date with the latest measures to protect our sensitive personal information?

From asking is IP address personally identifiable information to knowing whether you should use public wifi to access your bank accounts, our guide will get you up to speed – fast.

What is PII (personally identifiable information)?

PII is sensitive personal information that can be used to build up a private profile of yourself as an individual. As confidential, sensitive data, it can also be used by cybercriminals in an attempt to steal data or money, either by accessing existing accounts or by setting up new accounts.

Although financial services institutions have increasingly complex and sophisticated authentication measures in place, hackers are also learning all the time.

Cybercriminals are also motivated and ready to stay ahead of the game, meaning that vast numbers of fake accounts are set up every year – and equally vast sums of money are stolen through identity theft.

Damage can also be done where malicious individuals set up fake social media profiles and use them to wreak reputational damage.

The variety and volume of data hacks only grows, so don’t find yourself an unwitting victim. There are quick and easy steps that you can take to protect yourself.

How can you protect your sensitive personal information?

Here are some top tips to help to safeguard your PII and outwit the cybercriminals.

1. Change your passwords regularly

It’s an obvious security point for good PII protection protocols, but one that many of us fail to do because we’re worried about losing track of the latest password incarnation – or assume it is safe and fine to use!

Don’t take the risk and obviously, don’t use anything obvious. Yes, you who last chose “P*ssw8rd” – we do mean you!

2. Check your social media account settings

It’s vital to keep your social media accounts carefully locked down. Review your privacy settings so that you are clear on what you are sharing and to whom. Cybercriminals can easily access private data about you and use it to set up fake accounts or to attempt to carry out a phishing campaign.

Don’t share private data online, use two-factor authentication and minimize the information you provide on your profile page.

3. Use public wifi cautiously

Public wifi is great when you’re on the go, but it is very easy for hackers to set up fake “free wifi” networks in order to steal data. Verify the network details with the staff at the coffee shop, train station, hotel or business service that is purporting to offer it.

Again, a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a great way to protect your sensitive personal information, because the PII is encrypted and rerouted through a VPN server to ensure privacy.

Read more: Does a VPN protect you on public wifi

4. Make your security questions tricky

It’s too easy to choose obvious questions and answers which are easy to find out – such as the town of your birth. So choose options that relate to things that only you would know.

For example, the name of your first pet or childhood best friend are common questions, but far harder for a hacker to guess at the answer.

5. Use a random password generator

These software generators use randomization to assign a password that a hacker could never guess at. Take advantage of these key security features that ramp up your password complexity to the next level.

Read more: How to create a strong password?

6. Use private browsing

Although the private browsing feature won’t entirely anonymize your activity on the web, it can give you an element of protection – especially if your device isn’t private. With this setting, your browser will delete temporary internet files, cookies, and your browser history once you close your window.

Read more: Is Google Incognito really private

7. Hide your IP address

So is IP address personally identifiable information? Yes, absolutely. So consider using a VPN to reroute your online searches through safe servers before they hit their intended destination.

Read more: 4 ways to hide your IP address

8. Choose your device carefully

When you’re logging in to a private account of any kind, make sure you use your own device. Conversely, don’t use public access computers to access bank accounts or social media.

9. Think twice before giving out your NI number

There are always occasions when you will be asked to give your National Insurance number. But think carefully before you do and avoid sharing these details unless a financial services organization, NHS service, employer or other “legitimate” entity is requesting them.

For identity theft to be successful, the NI number must be present. The more organizations have your number, the less secure it becomes.

10. Make your browser use HTTPS

Use an extension to force your browser to opt for an HTTPS secure webpage when you use wifi. Try HTTPS Everywhere or Google other similar services to find one that you like.

11. Sign out!

When you have accessed an account of any kind online, remember to sign out when you have finished using it. If you’ve been using a wifi network that isn’t your own, then select “forget this network” on your device once you’ve finished what you’re doing.

12. Be on guard for phishing scams

Today’s phishing attempts are often incredibly sophisticated and many people cannot identify one of these fake messages as they will invariably look like they come from a trusted brand. Look out for spelling errors, attachments, strange salutations, blurry logos, subjects that aren’t familiar to you and noticeably vague content.

Embedded links are also a bad sign – a bank will never ask you to click through an email to access your account. If you’re unsure, call the company directly and check.

Read more: How to identify a phishing email

13. Read the fine print

It’s far too easy to skim past T’s and C’s when you’re in a rush. Take time to read this information and know exactly how a company is planning to handle your PII. There’s been a lot of controversy over the way that big brands are dealing with sensitive personal information, so don’t end up a victim!

14. Use antivirus software

Make sure you have installed the latest version of your antivirus software to avoid spyware, viruses, trojans and other malicious code programs attacking your device. There are free and paid versions, as well as options for Mac and PC.

Incidentally, don’t believe that you are less likely to be hacked if you’re an Apple device user – this might have been the case some years ago, but not anymore!

15. Use a VPN!

We’ve touched on it in the points above, but a VPN is a smart service to use if you’re keen to remain anonymous and safe online. There are a number of services on the market, each of which has something slightly different to offer, from encryption to server numbers.

What do they have in common, however, is the ability to give you peace of mind when operating in the digital space.

Follow these good practices now and you can look forward to a happy, safe online experience – every time!

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