How to be scandal-proof in the age of data breaches

Data breaches are on the rise. Since January 2017, there have been reports of security breaches using stolen information to access accounts.

In the Philippines, there are 119 million subscribers to which 47% of users are either browsing Facebook or chatting using their downloaded free messaging app.

Last year, of the 29 million accounts affected worldwide by the breach that Facebook suffered, 755,973 were based from the Philippines.

Facebook found a vulnerability attributed to a combination of several programming errors in updates made in July 2017. Malicious intruders were thus able to generate access tokens which allowed intruders to log on to affected FB profiles pretending to be the actual profile holders. This meant that they could access data without having to type in a password.

This incident generated instant reactions from its users that started numerous conversations about data privacy.

In Republic Act 10173, people whose personal information is collected, stored, and processed are called data subjects. Organizations who deal with your personal details, whereabouts, and preferences are duty-bound to observe and respect data subjects' data privacy rights.

However, we must remember that scandals--sexual, political, or simply personal--arise because sensitive information falls into the wrong hands. So how do you safeguard yourself from possible breaches and avoid being the next data breach victim? Here are what you need to keep in mind:

Think twice before backing up your messages. There are many benefits of encrypted messaging. One of it is that communications are coded in order to make information unavailable to third parties. When two or more devices communicate via an app, the information will be transmitted using a secret code rather than a plain text.

But here’s one good point to remember, often, your scrambled messages are unscrambled when they are backed up to the cloud. Which means, government can demand your cloud provider – Apple or Google - to retrieve and turn over your messages from its servers.

 Make sure your app uses encrypted messaging. When you say end-to-end encrypted messaging, it means all messages that are sent from your device to the person you’re communicating with are in the form of a code that only the recipient’s device can translate to plain text. Which makes it impossible for anyone – even the app maker – to see what’s being said.

Consider setting an expiry timer on your conversation. Viber, for one, offers a Delete Message Anytime option that will allow you to delete any message from both the sender and recipient’s device. It will totally remove the message even if it has already been seen. Once deleted, the content can never be viewed again.

Use secret or hidden chats, when possible. If you want extra privacy when you send messages, use your chat app's secret chat, if it's available. Viber has a Secret Chats option that allows you to set a self-destruct time for every message you send in the chat. The recipient can’t take a screenshot of the chat and if someone tries to forward it, the sender will receive a notification.

But if you want a conversation to not appear in the chat list, then use Viber's Hidden Chats function. These are normal chats, but they are kept in a secret section of the app that only the sender can access with a PIN.

Keep your apps updated. Lastly, one of the best ways to make sure that you stay secure is to keep your mobile and desktop software up-to-date. Oftentimes software updates are done when app-makers find a security bug or when enterprising hackers have become familiar with the code and have already created hacks to break them. So, update your chat apps when a new version becomes available.

With all the prying eyes everywhere on the Internet, it boils down to the need to be vigilant when it’s our privacy and security that’s on the line. Keep in mind to be careful in choosing the app that you use in all aspects of your lives. There’s only one who can protect you from all these internet mishaps… yourself.