It's your data, dummy: Make every day Data Privacy Day

Even in these dark digital times, data privacy matters. These five basic rules can help keep you safer in the murky online world

It's a cold and misty morning here in cyber space, and a sense of impending doom hangs in the air. I couldn't fathom why at first, but after sucking down two cappuccinos and therapeutically drop-kicking Pammy's yowling cat (not really, ASPCA), I realized the reason for my vertical neck hairs: Today is Data Privacy Day. It sounds like a laughable landmark, considering the events of last year or even the last couple of months, and digital privacy seems to have gone the way of the 5.25-inch floppy. Since we're all exposing or digital bits anyway, why bother with data privacy?

The answer: Because there's more villainy afoot than simple government fascist-esque snooping. Legions of vile hackers, identity thieves, pedophiles, smut merchants, spam spewers, bot commanders, and erectile dysfunction pill peddlers are swarming all over our wonderful InterWebs, and they have their sights set on your hard disk, bank account, contact list, and whatever else they can wrap their greedy Gollum fingers around to sell to the highest bidder. The NSA may make your life hard someday with its infernal, raid-our-digital-knickers initiatives, but Hugo the basement-dwelling identity thief can make you absolutely miserable right now.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Those who forget past tech are doomed to be hacked. | Can we talk? Send your tech war story to offtherecord@infoworld.com and get a $50 AmEx gift cheque if InfoWorld publishes it. We're all ears! ]

So let's use Data Privacy Day as a catalyst to take some steps, most of which start with us. In other words, by and large, we're stupid. Some of us take security too much for granted (me), others have thrown in the towel (me on scotch), and still more (probably the vast majority) simply don't have a clue (me on most other things). That's sad, but we can fight it with a few basic measures.

Sacrifice a little convenience. For example, maybe don't restructure your retirement portfolio off an iPad on a Starbucks public Wi-Fi connection because you don't feel like driving home first? IT folk might laugh, but spend a few hours in a caffeine-mongering hipster-pit and surreptitiously look around at your neighbors' screens. College tuitions, day-trading fortunes, and bitcoin billions -- you can see it all scrolling by over the rim of your mocha soy latte half-caf, though we all know (on some level) that public Wi-Fi is to network security as TMZ is to Justin Bieber's private life.

Sure, using your iPad or smartphone is slick and convenient, but the security vulnerabilities of mobile gadgets are potentially overwhelming. However, few dare to mention it because too much money is at stake or they're afraid of demented fanboys leaving bloody penguin heads in their beds.

Watch where you're going. We've all gone there for varying reasons: the fringe Web, dark and smoky places reeking of hookah pipes and laden with curious content, oft delicious and taboo. But we also know those sites are breeding grounds for the digital equivalent of two-foot-long cockroaches sporting handguns and rabies.

Though you can't stop your teenagers' curious eyes or typing fingers, you can at least make sure they're not scratching that itch on your work PC. Instead, bite the bullet -- drop $300 for a used laptop off Craigslist, install Linux, and tell them to wash their hands before dinner. Remember: There are dozens of reasons why any member of your family might wander the Web fringes -- music downloads, emailed joke links, or "you gotta see this" Facebook posts, to name a few. While you're at it, install secure browsing software and update your home firewall's firmware regularly -- which reminds me:

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