How to keep your personal information safe at work
In today’s world, data is king. Protect the keys to your castle with these strategies.
Every day, there seems to be a new data breach reported on in the news. From FitnessPal to Facebook, data exposure seems so commonplace it might not feel like a question of if, but when, it could happen to you.
In 2017, 2.6 billion records were compromised, according to the Breach Level Index from digital security firm Gemalto. About one in 10 breach incidents occurred by “malicious insider,” meaning that someone on the inside went rogue with the information they had access to.
At work, you’re vulnerable to just this sort of issue. One step to safeguarding your personal information is to know your rights as an employee.
“Depending on where you live, you may be protected from granting your employer access to your social media accounts, for example,” says Paul Biscoff, a privacy advocate for Comparitech.com.
“Employers are also limited as to what information they can request as part of a background check.”
To a certain extent, though, some of your information is out of your control. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take precautions. Here are five steps to keeping your personal information private.
Freeze your credit
Your employer has your Social Security number and a variety of other information, and there’s not much you can do about that. But you can freeze your credit to keep identity thieves from opening new accounts with that information.
“The idea is to essentially make that data useless to a criminal or even an insider, whether that be a fellow employee in HR or somewhere in administration who gets your information,” says Robert Siciliano, CEO of Safr.me, a company that provides security awareness training.
Many people don’t utilize a credit freeze because they think it’s cumbersome—if you want to get a loan or open a new account, you must unfreeze your credit with all three bureaus.
But both freezing and unfreezing are pretty painless. Each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) offers this service online.
“What this does for you is even if a hacker does get access to your social, they can’t use it to open up a credit card in your name,” Siciliano says.
Be alert for scams
In this day and age, almost no one is emailing you to ask for personal information. So if you do get a request for information such as federal identification or bank account numbers, be suspicious. (And don’t click on any links.)
“Anytime you get a communication from anybody at work, don’t automatically think it’s legit,” Siciliano says. “Even an email that looks like it’s coming from the CFO of your company or HR or accounting. It could be that someone was hacked.”
If you receive an email and you’re not sure if it’s genuine, pick up the phone and call the sender to confirm that you’re really meant to take the requested action.
Practice good password hygiene
You can save yourself a lot of anxiety by making it difficult to get into your accounts. That means using passwords that are hard to guess (search “best passwords” for a variety of tips on this) and using different passwords for different things.
“Don’t use the same password for Facebook as you use for Twitter as you do for your bank login as you do for your company’s web portal,” Siciliano says. While it’s daunting to consider using a different password for everything, you can use a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane to manage all your info.
Whatever you do, definitely don’t leave your passwords on sticky notes around your desk, and log out of important accounts before you leave your computer for long stretches. “Anybody walking by could, in many cases, just jump on your machine while you’re at lunch,” Siciliano says.
Also consider enabling two-factor authentication for your email, in which you’ll need something else—such as your smartphone or a fingerprint—along with your password to log in. “By adding two-factor authentication to the sign-in process you're making your information far more secure,” says Emmanuel Schalit, cybersecurity expert and CEO of password manager company Dashlane. “It is highly unlikely that a hacker could gain access to your data with just a stolen login ID and password.”
Protect your devices
Your work laptop and work device (and personal device, while you’re at it) all contain a great deal of valuable information. Password protect all of them, so if they’re stolen, someone won’t have immediate access to your stuff.
If you ever use public Wi-Fi, it’s also smart to install encryption software on your devices to protect your data while you’re using it. Otherwise, the data you’re sending and receiving is vulnerable to being intercepted by hackers using software to sniff out your information. Use a Virtual Private Network (or VPN) to mask your data. Try an app like NordVPN for your smartphone and a program like Hotspot Shield for your laptop.
Set up tracking on your devices so you can locate them if they’re stolen—or potentially wipe the data if needed. Find My iPhone and Find My Device are good apps for this. Back your data up to the cloud so you won’t lose all your info if this happens.
Lock up your stuff
Not all your information is digital. If you work in a space where you’re frequently away from your belongings—in a restaurant, say, or somewhere where you’re on your feet—be smart about storage. If there are lockers, take advantage of them and lock up your important things. If there’s no way to secure your stuff, it may be better to leave your bag or wallet in the trunk of your car.
“Don’t just automatically trust that your co-workers are all honest,” Siciliano says. “Because it’s not difficult for somebody to go through your bag, pull out a credit card, snap a picture of it and put it back. That happens all the time.”
Make job security a priority too
If you're feeling that your personal information is vulnerable while you're working, be sure to mention that to your boss or IT department. It can be difficult to stay focused on your job if you're worried about the safety of your personal information. If that's the case, it may be necessary to start looking elsewhere. Become a member of Monster so you can get job alerts for new openings in your area. You can also research companies and see employee reviews to find the right place for your next job.