September 9, 2019

Keeping your Digital Identity Safe in 2020 and Beyond

Our lives have shifted from analog to digital in the last decade in a never-before-seen fashion. Today, we use internet-connected devices for everything from finding a mate to shopping for groceries, and everything in between. We share and store more details about ourselves online than ever before.

Unlike the information stored using traditional, “analog” methods, the data we store online can be accessed by third parties – this makes keeping it safe a major challenge. Apparently, though, the role of the digital realm in our lives has grown too fast for the service providers to be able to handle its safety and security. This is why it doesn’t matter how safe you keep your secure passwords at online casinos, social networks, cloud storage, and other online services; these can end up in the wrong hands through no fault of your own.

One of the most recent examples of pretty stupid leaks is the one involving Facebook – who else. Its user base is huge – Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have close to 3 billion users – but its record in keeping their data out of the hands of third parties is, let’s just say, less than ideal.

hacker, hacking, cyber security
typographyimages (CC0), Pixabay

One of the most resounding scandals regarding this information was the one involving Cambridge Analytica, the shady firm that could bend elections by using precisely targeted ads to shift the views of the right people at the right time. And now another major leak has shaken the foundations of the massive blue social empire: Techcrunch security editor Zack Whittaker revealed that the phone numbers of more than 400 million Facebook users were found on an unsecured server online. This latest scandal comes after the social network admitted to having stored the passwords of millions of Instagram users in plain text on its servers.

How can you prevent unauthorized access to your account in the case of a password leak like the ones above?

One of the most obvious methods to control who can access your account (ideally, nobody but yourself) is two-factor authentication. This has been around for ages but ignored by the majority of internet users, possibly because it represents a minor inconvenience.

For those of you who don’t know what 2FA is: it is a means of confirming that it is indeed you who tries to access the account in question by asking for confirmation through the introduction of a code from an authenticator app or sent to you by email or text, perhaps tap a button on an Android smartphone’s screen (this is Google’s go-to 2FA method).

key, colorful, matching
Berger-Team (CC0), Pixabay

This doesn’t only ensure that you – as the sole user of the phone number, email address or the phone running the authenticator app – are the only one who can access the account in question but also alerts you of third parties potentially trying to access it, indicating that there is a chance that your credentials were leaked online.

Two-factor authentication is a surprisingly efficient way of keeping your accounts safe – still, a surprisingly low number of internet users embrace it, perhaps because they feel uneasy when handing out their phone numbers to third parties. Statistics from last January revealed that only about 10% of Google users activated this useful feature.

While 2FA is by no means an ideal method of keeping your information safe online, it is a major step in the right direction – and, combined with the security measures implemented by various service providers, it may soon improve our online experience enough so we can dive into it with peace of mind.

About the author 

Anu Balam

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