Security Experts:

The Keys to Unlocking Security in a Virtual World

Did you lock your front door this morning? Chances are, the answer is yes (and if not, you’re scrambling to text your spouse to make sure that he or she did after you left). The idea of leaving your place of residence open and available to whoever may choose to test the doorknob is virtually unfathomable – we place a high level of value on our home and the items within it. But when it comes to the virtual world, the idea of keeping ourselves safe and how to do so is far more difficult to digest.

Consider your data – your computer, network and online presence – as your virtual home. While this is not a new analogy, it’s one that bears repeating as we consistently see personal data under attack online. The information you store on the internet is just as important, if not more so, than what you keep in your house. So how can we ensure that we are protecting our virtual presence as thoroughly as we are our physical one?

An extremist would argue that if you really wanted to be secure, you would simply not have any points of entry whatsoever – no doors, windows or other access to the outside world. This is the route that certain people or organizations take when it comes to securing their data – they hold it in offline storage, where it cannot be accessed by hackers. The problem with this, of course, is that it cannot be accessed by yourself, either. Just as it’s highly implausible to have a home with no points of entry, holding your data somewhere that is completely inaccessible from the internet is not going to fulfill the storage needs of most users or organizations. Just as we can’t all live in a military bunker, we can’t all stop going online. So what can you do to keep yourself as safe as possible in the virtual world?

Set up a secure perimeter

Rather than barricading yourself in a bomb shelter with no way in or out, ensure you have a safe perimeter that can prevent unauthorized entry. Just like you’d use a fence or deadbolt lock to prevent people from easily entering your property, firewalls, password protection and multi-factor authentication are all methods that deter or stop criminals from getting in the door. While they aren’t completely foolproof and additional measures may need to be taken to keep bad actors out, they are a good first step. After all, a locked door may still be broken into, but it’s a lot easier to walk through one that is left open in the first place.

Install an alarm system

But just as home residents know that it isn’t always going to be sufficient to lock their doors and windows, users also need to be aware of protecting data from criminals who have already found a way inside. Alarm systems are a rightfully popular way that many homeowners deter criminals and prevent theft – the alarm can either go off when somebody opens a door without a key or by entering a code, when forcible entry such as a broken window occurs or when a specific area of the home is triggered. Likewise, having a threat detection system that can raise an alert if somebody unauthorized has made it inside your network is a crucial way to protect data and prevent further loss in the event that an attack happens.

Use a safe for your most valued possessions

Also key to ensuring data is protected is by prioritizing which of it is the most important. In a home, residents often put their jewelry or other valuables in a safe, which holds an additional layer of security that a burglar may need to break through in the event they make it inside the building. In a virtual scenario, adding another layer of security or encryption to your most crucial data – such as financial information or all of your passwords – is important to protecting it in the event that you are somehow breached. Choosing to store your credit card online at various retailer websites exposes yourself to more risk, so consider using an online payment system such as PayPal or going through the “hard” work of actually typing in your credit card every time.

Answer your door selectively

Being smart about who to let in and when is another key. Opening your door to every purported salesperson or stranger off the street who knocks on it isn’t a smart way to secure your home or belongings; so why would you download a file or click on a link from an unknown sender? Giving up your personally identifiable information (connecting to your Facebook account, for instance, or offering access to your phone contacts or location data) to play a simple online game is just like throwing personal data, such as your bank statement, in the recycling for anyone to come along and take. When we don’t consider the data that we are readily giving away to strangers, we minimize how important it is to protect ourselves. Exercising sound judgment about who and what to let into your network – both physical and virtual – is crucial to maintaining your overall security. 

For many, the idea of protecting personal data may seem like an ambiguous ask that is hard to pin down or keep track of. As the physical and virtual worlds are blurring with the addition of smart home technology and other new forms of data collection, securing this data is going to be just as important as securing your home itself. By taking what you know about security in the physical world and logically applying it to the virtual world, you can effectively protect your personal information.

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Jennifer Blatnik is VP of cloud, security and enterprise marketing at Juniper Networks with focus on enterprise deployments of security, routing, switching and SDN products, as well as cloud solutions. She has more than 20 years of experience helping enterprises solve network security challenges. Before joining Juniper, she served multiple roles at Cisco, including directing product management for security technologies aimed at small to medium enterprises, as well as supporting managed services, cloud service architectures and go-to-market strategies. She holds a B.A. in Computer Science from University of California, Berkeley.