Digital security has now become an absolute necessity. Since 2020, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received more than 5 million fraud and identity theft reports every year. The FTC is an agency that focuses on consumer protection, so this statistic is relevant to you and me. It means, in this digital age, our personal data and identity are being attacked more than ever before. It also means we must be more security-conscious if we don't want to be a part of the statistic. 

Having been a full-time digital nomad for many years now, I've had my own fair share of cyber incidents. For that reason, I've long embraced digital security as part of my lifestyle. I've learned a lot of important things along the way and would like to share them with you. 

In this article, I'm going to discuss the various aspects of digital security. I'll begin by explaining what it is, its different types, and the kinds of information that are at risk. I'll also talk about the different cyber attacks that target regular folks like you and me. More importantly, I'll share with you the specific security tools and strategies you can use to defend yourself. 

What is Digital Security and Why Does It Matter?

Digital security is the sum of all security measures and tools you use to protect your data and online identity. It involves best practices like applying strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and software updates. It also involves using tools like password managers and secure emails. So why is digital security important?

To appreciate the value of digital security, let's go over some of the things that can happen to you if you don't have it. First, hackers can steal your personal data. They can use that data to impersonate you. This is called identity theft. The hackers can then use that stolen identity to claim benefits or carry out financial transactions on your behalf. Hackers can also take over your online accounts and steal your funds or use services at your expense. Digital security can prevent these incidents from taking place. 

Digital security and cyber security are often used interchangeably. While they are closely related, they have subtle differences. Let's talk about those differences now. 

Digital Security vs Cybersecurity – What’s the Difference?

Digital security is more commonly associated with personal information and personal identity. It involves security tools and practices for personal data and personal devices. It's the kind of security that the general public—people like you and me—can put into practice. Cyber security, on the other hand, is more commonly associated with businesses and organizations. It usually deals with tools and practices that protect an entire organization. 

That said, there are no hard and fast rules that say you shouldn’t use the terms “digital security” and “cyber security” interchangeably. I interchange them many times on this site. However, for this article, I’ll be using the term “digital security” in the context of the definition I gave above. 

Types of Digital Security

As I delved deeper into the field of digital information security, I realized that it consists of different types. Each type focuses on a specific area. For example, one type focuses on the network. Another focuses on devices. Yet another focuses on software applications. And so on and so forth. It actually makes sense because cybercriminals try to get to us and our data in different ways and through different entry points. Many of these digital security types certainly overlap. But by understanding the different types of digital security, we can apply the best defenses for each entry point.

Data security

Data security focuses on protecting our data. For instance, it can prevent hackers from stealing your social security number or credit card details. Data integrity checks prevent fraudsters from tampering your personal payment data. Backups allow you to recover files even if your device is destroyed in a fire or a flood. Encryption prevents sensitive data from getting exposed in data leaks. And so on and so forth. 

Data security is important because, in this digital age, data plays an important role in our lives. For example, if somebody steals your credit card details, that person can make illegal purchases and charge them to your account. Or, for example, if your work-related files get corrupted, your work can be affected. Worse, you may even lose your job. 

Endpoint security

I use my laptop and my phone on a daily basis. I depend on them to do work and carry out personal tasks. For other people, they might rely on a PC or a tablet to do these things. Regardless, if any of these devices somehow become unusable, our workflows can suffer. This can happen if, say, our device gets infected with a computer virus or other types of malware. 

PCs, laptops, and mobile devices are also known as endpoint devices. And so, the type of digital security applied to these devices is called endpoint security. Endpoint security can protect devices from various cyber threats, including malware. There's another reason endpoint security is important. We store a lot of our data on our endpoint devices. By applying endpoint security, we can also protect the data stored on our devices. 

Identity and access management

Passwords and other methods of authentication act as gatekeepers. They make sure only we can access our devices and online accounts. All methods of authentication fall under the digital security type known as Identity and Access Management (IAM). IAM is a big part of the cyber security efforts businesses and organizations take. But it's also essential to personal digital security.

When you logon to a device or online service, that device or service verifies your identity through your login credentials. So, for example, if the username and password you entered match, it could mean you are who you claim to be. Because of that, you'll be granted access. The goal of IAM is to verify your identity before granting you access. 

Application security

Application security deals with the protection of software applications. It involves making sure an application doesn't put its users at risk. For example, it prevents data processed by an application from leaking out. It also prevents the application from doing things that it wasn't designed to do. Like, you wouldn't want your application connecting to a hacker's server. 

Although developers are mainly responsible for ensuring application security, we can also do our part. For example, we can do software updates or patches. Software updates often include bug and security fixes. These fixes remove software vulnerabilities. So, if we make it a point to update our software, we can bring down security issues in our applications. 

Online security

Online security protects data, systems, and activities associated with internet-based services. These services include social media platforms, online forums, and online banking sites. It also includes email, media streaming, instant messaging, and other online services. It addresses a broad range of threats and risks associated with online interactions. This includes protecting our online data, online transactions, and online communications. 

Before I studied other types of digital security, I focused on online security and network security. As a globe-trotting vlogger, these two types of digital security are most relevant to my profession. I subscribe to many online services and do a lot of work online. So I need to be sure everything I do is done in a secure manner. I have to protect my work, my data, and my online identity. 

Network security

Network security involves measures and tools for protecting data and activities on a network. For most people like you and me, this usually involves Wi-Fi networks. It also involves the global network that is the Internet. More specifically, it involves the connections we make with the internet. It's not so much related with the activities we do with internet-based services. As you know by now, those belong to the realm of online security. 

When I connect to public wifi, for instance, I always use a virtual private network or VPN. A VPN protects me from potential hackers lurking on the wifi network. I also make sure I enable my firewall whenever I connect to the internet. A firewall prevents my device from making connections with malicious sites. VPNs and firewalls are essential to our network security. I'll be discussing them in more detail later. 

Types of Information That Cause Digital Security Risk

I've been underlining the importance of securing our data since the start of this article. However, I have not yet identified the specific types of information that we need to protect. Obviously, not all types of data need protection. In this section, you'll learn exactly what I mean by “sensitive information”. These are the types of information cybercriminals are after and can cause digital security risk. These are also the types of data you must focus your information security efforts on. 

Personally identifiable information 

Personally identifiable information or PII is any type of data that can be used to identify an individual. Some examples of PII include your full name, social security number, or email address. Some online services, for instance, allow you to sign up using just your email address. Of course, other companies and services will require more than one PII. But the point is that your identity is associated with one or more PII. 

So why is PII considered sensitive information in the field of cyber security? Well, stolen personal identification data can lead to identity theft. If someone else knows a set of PII associated with you, that person can impersonate you and do all sorts of things on your behalf. For example, that person can sign up for an online service as you. If that person abuses that service, you could be held liable. 

Personal payment data

Personal payment data refers to data that's used for financial transactions. Some examples include credit card numbers and bank account details. You use these types of information when you buy something or transfer funds. So it's pretty obvious why payment data is considered sensitive information. 

If a hacker manages to get hold of your credit card details, for instance, that person can buy products and services using that information. Or if a cybercriminal knows your banking details, that person can empty your bank account. 

Personal health data

Personal health data refers to information related to a person's physical or mental health. In the healthcare industry, it's more commonly known as PHI or protected health information. PHI can include a patient's medical history, vital signs, and mental health information. It can also include diagnostic data, allergies, health insurance information, and others. PHI may also include the PII that we talked about earlier. 

PHI is valuable to crooks because they can use it to carry out medical identity theft. If you're a victim of medical identity theft, your health data can be abused. A hacker can use your data to get medical services, prescription drugs, or healthcare benefits. In the meantime, everything will be charged to your account. You'll suffer not only financial loss, but also a damaged reputation. 

Cyber attacks that target individuals

Digital security is meant to protect us from cyber attacks. Now, there are many forms of cyber attacks that target people like you and me. If you want to be effective in defending yourself against these attacks, you should know what they are. 

Identity theft

You already know what identity theft is, so we won't go into the details anymore. Just remember that it targets your personal data. For example, your social security number, your email, or even your medical history. Your stolen identity can be used to do all sorts of things on your behalf. Worse, other people will think you did those bad things even if you didn't have any hand in them. 

Malware infection

This cyber attack probably doesn't need any introduction as well. Malware is short for “malicious software”. They're considered malicious because they can do things that can harm your device or even you as a person. For instance, they can steal data, damage files, delete files, or slow down your device. The malware family includes computer viruses, worms, trojans, and other forms of malicious software. Malware can latch on to files, your operating system, or your applications. Some can even hide in your device’s memory. 

Social engineering

Social engineering is a family of cyber attacks designed to dupe victims into doing things they wouldn't normally do. For example, a social engineering attack might deceive you into revealing your password. Social engineering attacks don't have to be super technical. Some attacks simply involve a phone call. 

An attacker might call you on the phone and pretend to be a staff from your computer vendor. The person might inform you about a computer virus outbreak that's been in the news lately. The person might then proceed to tell you that they need remote administrative access to your computer. Supposedly, they would need access to install an antivirus. That antivirus is supposed to protect your computer from the virus. In reality, that person actually intends to install an information-stealing malware. But because you trust who the person claims to be, you grant them access. 

Phishing attacks

Phishing is a specific form of social engineering that's performed through email. I'm making a separate section for it because it's many times more common than other forms of social engineering. In fact, it's one of the most common types of cyber attacks. Like other social engineering attacks, a phishing attack deceives victims into doing something. In most cases, it deceives victims into sharing their passwords or downloading malware. 

For example, in the sample phishing email below, you're urged to click the link that says ‘Continue'. The email's messaging has a sense of urgency in it. But if you click that link, the next page may ask you to login or download an attached form. You could then end up sharing your account password or downloading malware. 

Password attacks

Passwords play an important role in our day-to-day digital security. They help ensure only authorized users can gain access into a system. That system can be an online service, a software application, a network, or a device. If a hacker manages to steal, guess, or crack your password, that hacker can take over your account. They can then steal your funds, wipe out your files, or do all sorts of bad actions through your own account. 

There are many cyber attacks designed to abuse password-based logins. For instance, there are brute force attacks that can crack easy-to-guess passwords. There are also man-in-the-middle attacks that steal passwords from unencrypted connections. There are credential stuffing attacks that use passwords stolen from past data breaches. There are even keylogging attacks that record keystrokes when you enter your password. 

Alright, we've already covered the most common cyber attacks that can harm us. It's time for you to be familiar with different digital security tools. You can use these tools to protect yourself against the cyber threats I just mentioned. 

Essential Digital Security Tools To Keep You Protected In 2024

Although there are exceptions, most cyber threats are technical in nature. For example, in the realm of cyber security, we deal with a computer virus, not a biological one. Therefore, it's not enough to rely on manual methods to drive back these threats. We need security tools to be efficient and effective in our security efforts. Yes, I'm also going to share with you some best practices to fight cyber threats. But for now, let me first talk about the digital security tools that I always have in my arsenal. 

Antivirus software

Of all digital security tools, antivirus software is probably the most familiar. Some operating systems even have them installed out of the box. The Windows Defender Antivirus, for example, is already there when you install Windows 10 or Windows 11. Built-in antivirus tools offer pretty decent protection. But you might want to look into third party tools for more advanced capabilities. Now, I know the term “antivirus” sounds like this tool can only work against viruses. Modern antivirus software can actually fight other types of malware as well. 

Virtual Private Network

I'm quite a big fan of virtual private networks or VPNs. I use them whenever I connect to the internet, especially if I'm on public wifi. A VPN encrypts web traffic. When you send data through an encrypted connection, no one can view that data. Not hackers, not your ISP, not even authoritarian governments. That makes VPNs perfect for securing sensitive information during online activities. A VPN even hides browsing history from your ISP, so it's great for privacy. It prevents your ISP and whoever has access to your ISP's data from tracking what you do online. Check out my article on the best VPNs for more info.

Password manager

Earlier, I talked about the importance of passwords and the threats surrounding them. You can counter many of those threats with one security tool. I'm referring to the password manager. I use a password manager to create strong passwords. Strong passwords are difficult to crack, making them immune to brute force attacks. A also use a password manager to maintain unique passwords for my online accounts. This makes me less susceptible to credential stuffing attacks. I use the same tool to auto-fill passwords onto login screens, so I don't have to type in anything with my keyboard. This automated process prevents keylogging attacks. 

I have written detailed reviews for each of the best password managers for 2024. You can check them out if you want to know more about password managers and their security benefits. 

  1. NordPass detailed review
  2. 1Password detailed review
  3. Dashlane detailed review
  4. Bitwarden detailed review

Pro Tip: If you want to protect your passwords from man-in-the-middle attacks, use a VPN! 

Secure email services

My emails often contain personal and financial information that are confidential in nature. To prevent nosy people from reading them, I use secure email services. These services use end-to-end encryption. That means my emails aren't just encrypted as they're sent through the internet. They stay encrypted even when they're temporarily stored on servers along the way. They stay in that encrypted form until they reach their ultimate destination. 

You might be wondering why I use secure email services even if I use a VPN. A VPN only encrypts your data from your device to the VPN server. However, your email may have to go through other servers on its way to its intended recipient. A secure email service encrypts your email the entire way. A VPN is great for other online activities. But for emails, use a secure email service. 

I have also reviewed a number of secure email services. You can read about each email service by clicking the links below.

  1. Proton Mail detailed review
  2. StartMail detailed review
  3. Hushmail detailed review
  4. Tutanota detailed review

Data removal services

Almost every time we do something online, we leave behind a trail of data. We add to our online data when we sign up to a service, post something on social media, do online shopping, and so on. All this data contributes to our online identity or digital footprint. It reflects not only who we are and what we do, but also what we want. 

This data is collected and sold to marketing companies, insurance providers, and other businesses. It's why you see ads tailored just for you. This may seem harmless, but it's an invasion to our privacy. Besides, do you know who else can get hold of your digital footprint? Cybercriminals and fraudsters. If you wish to reduce your digital footprint, you can subscribe to data removal services. These services can scour the web and remove your online data for you. 

If you’re interested, I’ve reviewed two of the best data removal services in the market. You can check them out here:

  1. DeleteMe detailed review
  2. Incogni detailed review

Encrypted messaging apps

Like my email, I prefer my instant messages to be secure and private as well. To achieve this, I use instant message encryption tools. These tools work almost like secure email services, but for instant messaging. Messages are likewise protected by end-to-end encryption. 

While security tools are essential for our digital safety, I don't rely on them alone. I also apply digital security techniques or best practices. By combining tools and best practices, I can reduce my digital security risk even more. 

How To Keep Computer Systems Free From Hackers and Malware

For many of us, our own PCs, phones, tablets, and laptops are no longer just personal devices. These days, many of us now use them for both personal and work-related activities. That means they may now contain both personal and company data. That makes it even more necessary to secure them. Here are some of the best practices I strongly recommend. 

Keep your software up-to-date

I already covered the importance of software updates when I discussed application security. That said, there are a couple of things you still need to keep in mind. First, apply updates as soon as they're available. If you keep postponing an update because you don't want to interrupt your work, you will put yourself at risk. Some malware spread so fast, you might eventually be caught with your pants down. 

Secondly, don’t just update your operating system. Update all applications, including those you don't always interact with. That includes plugins and other software components. If those components have known vulnerabilities, hackers may choose to go through them. The idea is to get rid of all vulnerabilities that hackers can abuse. 

Keep your antivirus software updated

The antivirus tools we install on our personal devices usually come with a database. That database contains malware signatures. When the tool detects a suspicious file, it searches that database to check if the file matches a signature. If it does, then the file is considered malicious. Since cybercriminals create new malware every day, you need to update that database. When you update an antivirus database, new malware signatures are added to it. This will enable your antivirus to detect newly created malware. 

Manually checking for updates from time to time however, doesn’t hurt. There may be times when automatic updates fail to download. This can happen when your device is constantly in use or when your internet connection is unstable. Don’t ignore antivirus updates. It could leave your devices vulnerable to recent malware outbreaks.  

Enable your firewall

Another security tool that you already have in your operating system is the firewall. A firewall blocks unwanted network traffic to your internet connected devices. You can choose which types of traffic are allowed to connect to your devices. For example, you can be super paranoid and block all incoming connections. Only outgoing connections would be allowed to pass through. Of course, that could hinder you from performing some online tasks. 

So you can simply allow built-in software to receive incoming connections. Or you can allow downloaded, authorized software to receive incoming connections as well. Firewalls allow you to control the types of connections that go in or out. 

Use strong and unique passwords

Long and complex passwords are immune to brute force attacks. Brute force attacks make use of tools that try all possible combinations to guess a password. These processes consume time and computational resources like CPU and RAM. The longer and more complex your password is, the more time and resources a hacker would need to crack it. So when you reach a certain length and complexity, brute force becomes impractical. If a password becomes too expensive to crack, the hacker will be forced to walk away.  

To create a strong and unique password, aim for a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid common dictionary words and information associated with you such as your birthday or name. As mentioned earlier, length is also critical. Strive for at least 12 characters if possible. 

In addition to being long and complex, your passwords must also be unique. This means, the password you use on one online account should be different from all your other accounts. This strategy makes your password immune to what's known as credential stuffing. Credential stuffing is an attack that uses passwords stolen from a past data breach. You'll be vulnerable to this attack if you use the same password on multiple accounts. If one of those accounts falls in a data breach, all your other accounts become sitting ducks. 

Maintaining long, complex, and unique passwords is easier said than done. It's almost humanly impossible to achieve. Me? I couldn't recall more than one unique, long, and complex password. That's why I use password managers like NordPass shown below. With a password manager, I don't have to recall multiple passwords. I just need to recall my master password. The password manager will then recall my passwords for me. 

Use Two-factor Authentication

Using strong and unique passwords, plus a password manager, is a big leap in security. These strategies will make it extremely difficult for a hacker to take over your account. That said, some hackers are really crafty. They can still find ways to get your passwords. Fortunately, there is a way to prevent hackers from taking over your account even if they have your password. You can use two-factor authentication or 2FA.

2FA combines password-based authentication with another authentication system. For example, you can combine it with an authenticator app. Examples of authenticator apps include Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator. They’re shown on the screenshot below. 

These are mobile apps, so they're installed on your phone. These apps generate random numbers called one-time passwords (OTPs). Many online services now support authenticator app-based 2FA. You just have to enable it. So, when you logon to a service, you'll be asked for your password and that OTP. That OTP changes every minute or so. Since that OTP is generated on your phone, a hacker will still need your phone. The hacker can't log on even if it has your password but not your phone. 

Google Authenticator displaying some applications and their corresponding OTPs

Maintain data backups

Having data backups is a crucial component of every digital security strategy. A data backup ensures that your data is not permanently gone in case of hardware malfunction, corrupted software, or theft/loss of the device. Equally important is the protection it offers against cybersecurity threats such as ransomware.

In a ransomware attack, hackers make your data inaccessible unless a ransom is paid. Having a recent backup allows you to have continued access to your important data without having to give in to the demands of the attackers. Individual users have several options to maintain data backups—removable devices such as USB flash drives (for , external hard drives, cloud backups, or any combination of these.

Final words

Digital security is no silver bullet. It consists of many tools and practices that work together to protect your identity and data from cyber threats. I've tried to pack everything you need to know about digital security in this article. So I hope you found it useful. I have many articles like this on this site, and I keep adding more. Please find time to read my best picks, reviews, how-tos, and more by going to the menus at the top of this page. See you there!

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Full Time Digital Nomad

About The Author

Hi! I’m Trevor James, a Canadian YouTuber who travels the world full-time. I make videos about food, travel, and cybersecurity. I have been traveling the world and making videos for over 10 years. You can read more about me here.