Cyber privacy is a hot topic in the media right now. Millions of Americans fear that their personal information is at risk, and the scary thing is, they aren’t wrong. If multinational corporations like Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Evernote cannot deter hackers, perhaps that means we all need another lesson in protecting our private information online. When 250,000 Twitter accounts are hacked it is frightening news because that means 250,000 passwords are now potentially public information. And anyone who has had their credit card information stolen via the internet, knows how a situation like that can turn your entire world upside down.
When a company that has access to your private information is attacked by malware, there is very little you can do to protect yourself in that instant. That is why it is wise to be proactive about your online identity. Stay vigilant by updating your passwords regularly, be discreet about the information you offer to any website, and be wary of which sites and people you trust. While you shouldn’t be scared to death of using useful ecommerce websites like Amazon or Etsy, you should be prepared to invest time into shielding yourself while doing it. If you are one of the 100 million American consumers that shop online, these tips to protect your online persona can be a real cyber-life saver.
- Passwords: Change them from time to time. Do not post on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed anything that may give them away, like your birthdate, pet’s name, or the street you grew up on. In fact, if your passwords are that simple, you are asking for trouble. Your passwords should be some what complicated, random, and difficult to guess. Include capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Sometimes using a word or phrase you pluck out of thin air, is smarter than choosing your child’s name. Create different passwords for every site you use, your email, bank, Facebook, Ebay, etc. Also, there are applications available via mobile device, like Password Keeper, that can store and protect all of your digital passwords.
- Cookies: Mmm Chocolate chip, these sound harmless? Wrong, Block them! When you surf the Internet, hundreds of data points are collected by the sites you visit. These pieces of information, referred to as cookies, are stored and complied into your “digital profile,” which is then sold without your consent to companies around the world. Ever wonder why adds that seem to perfectly cater to your every want and need bombard the margins of each webpage you visit? Block cookies. Yes, you may have to enter passwords more often, but it’s a smarter way to peruse the web.
- Familiar Emails: Be cautious. There is a new trend in phishing scams, which use the name or handle of someone very familiar to you. The email may appear to be from your mother, your boss, your university, or your cable provider but when you open it, the message asks for your social security number or credit card information. DO NOT open attachments from these emails, do not reply, do not download any information from that email, and forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Geo-Location: Seems awesome, but be wary. First of all, this is another way for companies to track your purchasing habits. If you check into Taco Bell three times a week, you can expect advertisers to notice and fill your newsfeeds and web-surfing experience with advertisements for Mexican food, and who knows, possibly weight management products. You may think it’s cool to let all of your friends know where you are at every second of your day, but you are also letting people know that you probably ARE NOT at home- guarding all of your valuable possessions. Never publically post that you will be leaving your home unattended for days or weeks, unless you are positive that your home security is more dependable than your cyber security
- Shred, Shred, Shred: Before tossing out credit-card offers, billing statements, or any other hard copies that arrive to your house with your information—rip them up into tiny microscopic, unreadable, irreparable, pieces.
- Privacy Settings: Always become very familiar with the privacy settings of each website you choose to subscribe to. If you become a member of a site, usually that page requires some information—make sure that material is protected. Especially on social networks, max out your privacy settings.
- Free WiFi: Is like a shining beacon in a dark, disconnected world! Sometimes I choose my hangout spots based on whether or not this service is offered to me. But did youknow, that an Internet connection without password protection opens your device up to hackers? For example, if I am sitting at a Starbucks, working on my screenplay so that everyone can see how busy I am, while simultaneously surfing the web—another user on that network, depending on his or her hacking savvy, can access any information that is stored in my computer. If you have a wireless router at home, set a password and enable the encryption to scramble the data you send online. Do not let everyone in your apartment complex hop onto your Internet. You will be paying for a service that they will use for free, they will siphon your bandwidth, which will slow your connection, and while the chances are minimal, someone could gain access to your personal computer.
Most people aren’t even aware of how much information can be found about them with just a few clicks. Search the web frequently by Googling yourself or your friends and family members and make sure to remove yourself from websites that store your private information. If there is an old networking site that you are no longer frequenting, like Myspace for example, go delete your account.
It helps to monitor your banking statements as well; browse for suspicious purchases at least weekly. If you feel like your card details have been stolen, you need to contact your financial institution immediately and report the fraud. They will help you cancel your card and order a new one. Also, place a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus and put a security freeze on your files. You can even file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
A physical invasion of privacy, like a home robbery for example, is terrifying and unsettling which is why many families have security systems in place. We offer so much information over the Internet, yet enforcing the same systems of security are often ignored. A digital invasion of your privacy can destroy your credit and leave you financially in limbo until your case is resolved, so take these tips into consideration and protect yourself while surfing the web.
By Sasha Novikov, Creatine Marketing