Last week, we wrote about the importance of password management and online security. It seems that no matter how many catastrophic online threats we hear about in the media, somehow, passwords still remain a serious chink in our digital armour. However, passwords aren’t the only online credentials you should be actively looking to protect. On December 4th, Google expects search queries from mobile users to overtake the number of searches made by desktop users. The number of mobile searches is expected to reach into hundreds of billions per year. At the beginning of 2013, mobile traffic accounted for 22.75% of total website visits in the UK. This share increased significantly throughout 2013, resulting in mobile’s share edging closer to 40% of website visits. If this figure is to increase, which the majority of experts predict it will, we could potentially see a mobile share of close to 60% before the year is over.
These figures offer conclusive proof, should you really need it at this point, that the overall balance of the multi-channel world is constantly changing. It is safe to say that ‘mobile-first’ is no longer a meaningless mantra tossed around by those ‘in the know’ – it is now part of our daily make-up.
Mobile devices have always come with an attached stigma surrounding security concerns – how can something so small and portable contain all of our information safely and securely, many ask. The more we rely upon these devices to help us carry out basic and advanced tasks, the more experts warn us of potential threats to our online privacy, and as part of the traditional domino effect, the more we panic about our data, and rightly so. Online threats, such as the Heartbleed security bug and the recently discovered Shellshock bug, shouldn’t be glazed over. The threat surrounding them is very much real, and incredibly worrying. However, if, as the aforementioned figures suggest, we’re not going to be retiring our devices any time soon, we need to break the cycle and get on board with secure practices and techniques in order to protect our data for the long haul.
Make no mistake, well-made smartphones and their respective operating systems actively encourage us to offload our sensitive information – mainly for ease of use and familiarity. We’ve now reached a point where we are inputting our bank details, payment information and addresses into our devices for use across the plethora of applications available to us. But do we truly understand how difficult, or not so as the case may be, it would be for an attacker to gain access to this slew of delicate information? Are we at a moment in time where we definitively understand the importance of data security? If you’re a mobile user and you would like to feel more comfortable using your device, or if you’re a business owner looking to provide a secure and safe environment for your customers to interact with, here are a few simple, yet effective steps to ensure your data is protected in the best way possible.
Individual safety measures
- Set up a pin on your device: This is perhaps the easiest, yet the most commonly overlooked step you can take to securing your device from prying eyes. A memorable pin that only you are aware of ensures your data’s safety should the worst-case scenario occur. If your device boasts biometric features, you can choose to add an extra layer of personal security that is truly unique to you, and you alone.
- Manage your passwords effectively: We spoke about this step at length in our previous blog post, ‘Is your password secure?’. Passwords are our digital passport. Without them, the web would be a dangerous and uneasy place. With them, and with developed privacy knowledge, we can work together to create stronger and safer passwords that will help shape our future on the web.
- Encrypt your sensitive information: If you have data housed on your device that is sensitive or that matters most to you, you should be taking the steps required to encrypt it. The majority of devices on the market will provide built-in encryption should you wish to activate it. If you do wish for your device to encrypt your sensitive information, you must remember that, in most instances, encryption is completely irreversible, which means you will lose all information, if that information is not backed up.
- Back-up your data: You can also very easily back-up your information via the pre-packaged software that came with your device, or store it on your own portable storage equipment for easier access. There is also the option of backing up to cloud storage, however, recent stories within the media have perhaps tarnished this method slightly, suggesting that it could put your data at risk, rather than safely contain it.
- Secure your networks: This step may not apply to the majority of users, as many of the bigger network providers in the UK now force password-protection onto new routers by default. If your router doesn’t require a password to connect to the Internet, you should ensure that a password is set up immediately. A strong password not only keeps your data safe, but it also allows you to control the number of users and devices connected to the network at any given time. A final tip for public Wi-Fi usage, do not login to personal applications whilst connected to these networks, particularly those that do not require a password to connect – you do not know what is happening with your inputted data, so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Business safety measures
For business owners, this reliance on mobile usage creates a unique set of granular privacy concerns. How do you know exactly who is visiting your site across multiple devices? How do you deliver the content they want, in the manner in which they want it? And, perhaps more importantly, how do you continue to make money as this propensity surges?
- Follow legislation to the letter: If you hold and process information about your customers, employees or suppliers, you are legally obliged to protect that information. Under the Data Protection Act, you must:
- Only collect information that you need for a specific purpose.
- Keep it safe and secure.
- Ensure it is relevant and up to date.
- Only hold the amount of detail you require, and only for as long as you need it.
- Inform the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) exactly how your business uses any personal information.
- Allow the subject of the information the opportunity to view collated data upon request.
By keeping consumer data safe and secure, you can enhance your own reputation, increase customer confidence in your brand and move forward with a pro-active and cost-effective stance. If you knowingly withhold or misuse any personal data, you could be given a fine or made to pay compensation to those involved.
- Nail down the sign-in process: At this moment in time, tracking multi-device users with Google Analytics isn’t anywhere near as easy as it should be. So, in the interim, you need to ensure that your sign-in/sign-up process is safe, secure and working effectively for users across multiple devices. If a user finds it difficult to login or register, they may simply choose to shop elsewhere and you will continue to lose out as many more follow suit. You can also enable social sign-ins that allow customers to login using their already-trusted credentials from a social network of their choosing, providing a safe and familiar bridge if you don’t have the time or recourses to redesign your existing setup.
- Display your privacy practices: Irrespective of whether or not you sell products via your businesses’ website, you should be actively notifying your customers of how you plan on protecting their data privacy, what you may or may not do with any collected data and how you will be storing it, safely or otherwise. In terms of industry-leading standards, a best practice is to display a pop-up or dialog box when any detailed communication is made between the consumer and your server. You should be doing this any time you ask your customers for thorough or sensitive information about themselves.
- Allow the user a choice: During the registration process, you should be allowing your users the opportunity to fine-tune and customise the information they receive from you, via newsletters or targeted emails. In an age where customers can customise their experience, add promotional codes from email campaigns and checkout using a method that suits them, you must allow for freedom of choice in order to reflect the positive aspects of your brand.
In an age where our daily activities are featured across numerous social networks, applications and online sites, our data is potentially more at risk than ever before. Our online information and identities will continue to expand and develop as new products are released, new networks are launched and new experiences are to be had online. We all have a responsibility, as either an individual online or as a business owner with an online platform, to embrace these changes and ensure that the data contained within them is stored safely and securely within the digital realm.
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