On Data Protection Day, the writer tracks down experts and frequent users who share tips on safeguarding identity while using the Internet

You log on to a travel portal and check for tickets to go on a vacation to Paris. A week later, you log on to a totally unconnected website, only to have a pop-up asking you if you’ve booked your tickets for your Parisienne holiday!

Using Facebook on your smart phone or tab, you ‘check in’ every time to enter a restaurant, an airport lounge or the neighbourhood café. Do it regularly and someone, somewhere with a crooked mind will be able to map your weekend plans with alarming accuracy.

How vulnerable are we in an increasingly digital world? Though some people exercise caution while posting online, experts say no method is foolproof. Srinardhani Janardhanan, an independent instructional designer, spends a lot of time online. “But, I make it a point to leave no personal information on the Web. I am on Facebook, but my profile is listed as non-searchable. I use it to communicate with just a limited group. My only ‘open’ online presence is LinkedIn, but even that is not updated,” she says. “Though my work involves staying in touch with many people, at an individual level, I am a very personal being,” she says.

Homemaker Aruna Rajaram is very active on social media, and uses it for everything from recipe hunting to reading up on a possible infection her kid might have contracted. But, she opts for private browsing (your browser allows you to go online without leaving too much of a digital footprint) and always deletes history, including cache files, before logging off. An incident similar to the Parisienne vacation was the trigger to opt for safe browsing. “That was a moment of truth. I realised that my data is not just mine,” she says.

“Internet security was never a concern even 10 years ago because Internet and smartphone penetration was really low,” says Narain Rajagopalan, partner, Avere Capital Advisors, who works closely with data security firms. “But, now, all our communication is migrating to a digital format. Every text and e-mail you send, every post on social media is digital data that can be used by others,” he explains.

People are unknowingly sharing personal details on the Net. “If someone is smart enough, they can track every footprint of yours. Thanks to descriptive family photos on FB and details of birthdays and anniversaries, they know the members in your family and can track important passwords (if the question is ‘what is your mother’s maiden name’ or ‘anniversary date’),” he says.

Sathya Shankar, vice-president, Eagle Software India Pvt Ltd, says most business houses constantly review their defence strategies and processes, and update their tools.

“On the personal level, the Internet has replaced dictionaries and encyclopaedias for our children. Making them use it without security is as dangerous as crossing an arterial road, unassisted. The threats are complex and the damages multi-dimensional,” says Sathya, who works in the area of identity management with biometrics and transaction security.

Narain says that it is no longer just about financial losses when data security is compromised; it is also about loss of character. “Someone can go online, monitor your likes and dislikes and pass rude/disparaging remarks about you in a social space,” he says.

You should be prudent about what you put up, he says. “Your life on social networks can give anyone an idea of what you do. If someone collates all of that, it could lead to serious trouble,” he adds.

Says Sathya: “Our lives are going to get even better and more reliant on technology; likewise, security threats will increase. The trick is to move to the next orbit, from awareness to self-defence.”

Back-up, the key

Data protection can also mean securing data. Photographer Viren Mohan says back-up is the first step. Most of his data is in the form of a photo library. He backs-up data onto at least three disks in various locations, and another computer.

For greater protection, he stores the final versions of photographs and critical documents on cloud storage.

Next comes software. “There are many reliable software (Chronosync, Syncovery, Time Machine (built into OSX)) you can use. With these, selective backup of your files onto another disk is just two clicks away. If all is lost and recovery is needed, Viren banks on a hard disk that holds a bootable version of an operating system, loaded with recovery tools (TechTool, DataRescue, SMARTReporter…). “Also, buy reliable, genuine cards,” suggests Viren.