A friend came to me recently and asked if there was an app or some other way that she could strengthen her privacy and hide personal information online. She had just received a bit of Internet publicity, which was excellent for her career, but around the same time, troubling emails started popping up in her inbox. These email were from strangers telling her that they had found her personal email, phone number, and home address online. They asked if the information was correct (it was, though my friend didn't respond), and threatened that it was out there for anyone to see. These strangers wouldn’t, however, tell my friend where to locate this bevy of intimate data.
Needless to say, the emails disturbed her. She felt violated, and concerned for her safety. Was her personal info that readily available online? How? Though she searched tirelessly, she couldn’t trace it and thus didn’t know how to take it down.
Breaches in online security can disrupt your life with the click of a cursor. Maintaining security and privacy online goes far beyond creating a password slightly more complex than "1234" or some combo of your name and birthday. While most of us have not experienced something like my friend's situation in terms of level of severity, many of us have unfortunately gone through the rigmarole of having our credit card information stolen.
The best way to prevent safety snafus is to know how to avoid common missteps that could come back to haunt you later. We all click randomly on things, and go to sites that are unsafe. Many computer security novices will emerge from browsing and shopping online unscathed. But before you open up your homepage, you may want to take a second and peruse this list of common mistakes. Hopefully, you will sign in with eyes a little more open, and password a little more secure.
1. Giving Up Unnecessary Deets
We've all filled out forms online that are unnecessarily detailed. There seems to be a space to fill in everything from name, to phone number, mother's maiden name, college education, and what you ate for breakfast two days ago. But unlike being in a doctor's office, there is no reason you need to complete all parts an extensive form. The truth is, 99.9 percent of the time the company doesn't actually need to know that much about you.
Practice only filling in the boxes which are marked as required. You can even make up a fake birthday if you wish — Facebook isn't double checking. Buying a computer game online is all fun and games until suddenly you're living out the plot of the movie Identity Theft, but it's even less funny.
2. Sharing Location Data
In the good old days, we all wanted to be Foursquare mayors of our local bars and coffee shops and never gave a second thought to "checking in" online. Facebook asks you to share location data in "real time" with every post you make, and it could be possible for people to track you based on your timeline alone.
And even far from social media, while perusing shopping or restaurant websites, they will ask for your geographical location. To disable sites from tracking your geolocation you need to dive deep into your browser settings. It may seem confusing, but it only takes a second to learn how to increase your privacy and make your laptop more safe. Here is an excellent site that walks you through how to prevent unwanted tracking.
3. Using Essentially The Same Password For Everything
For the sake of convenience, having one good password that is easy for you to remember makes sense. But if you only have one key or a variation on a theme to unlock everything puts yourself at risk. Once that password is cracked, the hacker will have access to everything. If you give that password away to friends or your S.O. (again, convenient) it can be even be even more dangerous. To maintain a high level of security, have a diverse group of passwords (not stored anywhere in your computer) that you change every couple of months — or at least after you drunkenly ask your friend Saturday night to check your bank balance and see how much you can tip.
4. Being Super Open With Google
If you are ever looking for me, 90 percent of my day is spent on Chrome, so clearly I like my Google. However, the tech giant also records your online search and location history and they then use the info gained to target users with online advertisements. If you want, you can opt out of these "interest-based ads" or go all together incognito. I'm not saying we should all disappear to a moss-covered cabin in the woods with no heat or water, but it is helpful to be aware of how much you are sharing. That way you can make an educated decision on privacy based on your comfort level.
5. Using Open WiFi And Hotspots
Sometimes we need to log-on to an unsecured network to email a work document, or just forget to set up a password. But if you have a choice of not using open wifi, better safe than sorry. Privacy can be breached easily. As Network World says, "Public hotspots can allow anyone within the area to potentially read data that is not addressed to them." For a list of the many unfortunate ways attackers can access private data through open wifi check out this list on Network World .
6. Not Maintaining Privacy Settings
This may be last on the list, but it is the first thing you should do when clicking away. Go through your Google privacy settings to make sure you are only sharing the photos, videos, and other info that you want. Check your Facebook and other social media to make sure that the settings are altered to your needs. Scan through your computer and phone and make sure everything is locked with a password. Believe it or not, these little precautions can save you from lots of big problems. Happy browsing!