Like everything else in modern economies, the internet has become ‘more, better, cheaper, faster’. Unfortunately, the dangers associated with using the internet so freely have also proliferated, while we have become so comfortable online that our everyday actions may put us in the path of grave danger.
There is no need to put on a tinfoil hat, but you do need to take some basic precautions daily to make it a little harder for bad actors to nab your private information. Here are 5 tips to protect your privacy online without spending a lot of time doing it.
Social Media Can Be Pretty Revealing
Manage your social media accounts like you would manage work-related, often confidential, documents at the office. We are usually naturally cautious about sharing work documents and information, and we all give at least a moment’s thought about who should or should not have specific information. Do the same with your social media accounts. Get into the habit of pausing for a minute before you share.
Use privacy settings carefully, don’t drink and post, and Oh! check whether your social media platform automatically strips off the metadata of the photos you upload. When your photo contains metadata tags like time, place, go location, and device you used, that information is essentially released into the wild, wild west. Not a good idea! You can find a guide on stripping metadata here.
Don’t ‘Subscribe and Forget’
Do a good spring-clean of your past online behavior. Were you around ten years ago when job seekers had to complete exhaustive, invasive online review forms for each online recruitment or job placement company?
Where did those companies go with your data? Where did they store the information? And did you ever try FarmVille or First Life? Can you even remember the time when you had a MySpace Account?
You might be a little shocked when you start digging into your online behavior over the past couple of years. As naive new internet players, most of us happily shared private and personal information online. Concerns about internet privacy, and the dangers of hacking and data theft only became a ‘thing’ a short 10 years ago.
Powerful search algorithms used by private enterprises can unearth much of this deeply buried data. Companies use tailored software to compile personal profiles on pretty much everyone, which is frequently used to research potential employees or find people. The most popular use for much of this data is to find out what you like and then sell stuff to you!
Use Nuwber to find out what everyone else knows about you. Nuwber experts can extract information from forgotten internet corners, which will give you a good idea of your online risk profile.
Also, check whether any of your old online haunts had been breached. What type of information had been exposed? Visit all possible sources of data, for example, ancient gaming accounts where you can delete profiles or replace profile information with nonsense data.
Don’t Trust All Those Handy Applications
Actually, you should actively mistrust every application you use, especially the free ones. Even your browser can turn against you and reveal login information to potential hackers, especially when you use autofill or synchronization services.
It appears to be a time-saver, but every time you use the service you add more information to your autofill profile (address, credit card information, and the like). That information can easily be intercepted by hackers, especially when you use public WiFi facilities. According to Symantec, 4800 websites are compromised each month with form jacking code, which steals information as you type it in.
Good advice is to re-type that information every time you need it. Even better advice is to limit the information you are prepared to reveal to obtain a free template, free online storage, or a newsletter.
Ask yourself why a weather app, online timetable, or dating or ride-hailing phone app needs access to your photographs, emails, or document files. If the application can operate without that information, why should you allow them to read your correspondence? Always read the terms and conditions of ‘free’ applications, and try to find apps that respect your privacy.
Secure All Your Internet Access Gear
By this time, each one of us probably owns between 10 and 30 internet-capable devices. First and foremost, secure your home WiFi network with a strong password and always use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption to obscure the details of the information you send and receive.
Next up is keeping your computer, tablet, and phone secure. The most basic step here is to set your devices to receive automatic updates. Hackers just love outdated software, because the longer the flawed software remains on computers all over the world, the easier it gets to mine those exploits. Install a good antivirus to help you dodge innocent-looking links or mail attachments.
Don’t even think about using the free WiFi at the airport without a VPN! Hackers employ innocents to move around with ‘grabber’ software to vacuum up passwords and other sensitive information while you stop to send that quick last email before boarding.
Those Polls and Quizzes!
We’ve all been tempted to have some fun with puzzles, polls, or personality quizzes. Those things are so enticing! After all, it’s important to know which celebrity has the same taste in shoes that you do!
Just leave well enough alone. If the quiz is irresistable, at the very least:
- Log out of your user account and log back in as a different user (create a ‘throwaway persona’ for this kind of thing)
- Use a different browser than you normally would. (It’s a good idea to protect your privacy with Mozilla Firefox)
- Use a throwaway or expendable email account
- Block cookies, and clear those that do sneak through when you’re done.
Taking at least one of the above precautions will help a little. Using all is an even better idea!
Approximately 7-10% of people in the US experience identity fraud each year. 19% of US residents have experienced one or more incidents of identity fraud, and had to take this list of recovery steps. In 2018 the Consumer Sentinel Network received over 535,000 imposter scam reports totaling close to $488 million lost. The 2019 report is expected to be a lot scarier.
Most victims do not know how, when, or by whom their personally identifiable information had been stolen. Let’s take care out there.