Security lessons from RSA

Stay safe online with these recommendations from IT and crypto professionals at the RSA security conference.

The RSA Conference, the flagship meetup for cryptography, information security, and IT experts from around the world, just wrapped on February 28. While RSA is largely for IT professionals and businesses rather than consumers, I learned a couple of new lessons about personal protection in the age of big data. Read on for lessons learned and tips for taking control of your online security and digital privacy.

1. Beware of hackers and protect your passwords

Hackers are no more evil than the average netizens, nor are they loners: They build social communities around their illicit activities. Whether they're cyber-criminals trying to make money off stolen data, hactivists taking a stance, or surveillance bugs just keeping tabs, hackers have turned hacking into a business, and data is their sole interest. Most hackers work together to pull off sophisticated attacks, mostly on organizations, companies, government sites, or other hacking groups.

If your info is out there for the taking, then be ready to call your credit card company at a moment's notice. But present hackers with a little difficulty and they might just go after another, softer target. So, create tougher passwords (longer is always better!), get a two-step authentication system, edit out personal info from your Facebook and Google+ pages, and don't tweet things that can be used to phish data.

Keep your passwords safe with these Windows apps:

2. Use open-source software and get the latest updates

(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

Unlike proprietary software, open-source software lets users customize their security privileges and allows anyone to look into the source code and report any vulnerabilities or flaws. Whether you're using open-source or proprietary software, always look for the latest update for any software you have installed, from Flash to the apps you rarely use. Updates and patches cover security flaws and reduce potential abuse. Look for open-source alternatives to your favorite programs. A good way to start is by checking out these trusted open-source apps.

Additional open-source apps:

3. Minimize: Uninstall apps you don't need; don't share info you do need

(Credit: Nicole Cozma/CNET)

Remove apps that you no longer use but never bothered to delete. Uninstallers like Revo or IObit can make cleanup easier. Do you really need 20 Chrome extensions or 10 different MP3 converters?

Don't divulge data unless necessary. Need to sign up for an offer that requires an e-mail? Services like Guerrilla Mail can provide temporary, disposable e-mail addresses. How about if you need to give a phone number? Google Voice can help with that. One less database that contains your personal info means one less possibility for that data to fall into the wrong hands.

The more vigilant you are about your own security, the less chance you'll be caught off guard. Once divulged, your info will remain out there indefinitely. Reevaluating your daily habits can help mitigate risks. While you can never be completely safe, you can be proactive and be prepared for when a breach occurs.

Other resources, courtesy of RSA:

Krebs on Security -- Keep up with the latest security news.

ShieldsUp -- Check for open ports, password strength, and other security measures.

Cryptotools-- Learn and play around with cryptography.

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