Protecting Your Online Privacy: How to Keep Your Online Activity Private from Pirates, Hackers and Marketers
This is a guest post by Christopher Wallace.
The recent proliferation of social media networks has increased awareness of online privacy issues. On the surface, some may feel that online privacy is only a concern for those attempting to hide their internet activities. This could not be further from the truth. Online privacy is an issue that impacts ALL of us.
Of course, it is safest to assume that all of your internet information and activities are in the public domain and that one must take steps to curtail those that you don’t want publicized. The reality is that this is not a practical or desirable solution for most users. Additional actions are required to make full use of the web AND to protect your privacy.
So where do you begin? Changing the software and configurations related to internet applications can be a daunting task. Below are some basic common sense ideas that can benefit most internet users.
Almost everyone uses a web browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Safari. These software providers are continually updating the security features of their browsers to protect users. To maximize your protection, be sure to update your browser to the latest version.
Microsoft Windows is the most widely used operating system and is therefore the biggest target for criminal activity. If you are using an older version of Windows, the first thing you can do is to upgrade to Windows 7. Microsoft claims that the computers with Windows XP are four times more likely to be infected with malware than computers with Windows 7. If your computer is old and in need of replacement, it may be more pragmatic to purchase a new computer already loaded with Windows 7.
It is critical that you install software with anti-virus and anti-spyware capabilities. While paid versions of the popular programs may provide slightly more protection, the free versions should meet the needs of most users. These include Avast!, Avira, AVG and Microsoft Security Essentials.
Password security obviously plays an important role in securing many internet applications. Be sure to assign unique passwords to important accounts. Choose security questions that only you can answer. “Just say no” to prompts that ask if you want to save your password. If possible, avoid entering critical passwords when using publicly accessible computers. Change your passwords periodically.
Editor’s Note: I strongly recommend LastPass for all your password needs.
Many companies attempt to track your every move on the web. Much of this tracking is achieved by covertly downloading cookies onto your computer. In addition, some search engines retain a history of your web searches. Once they find out which sites you visit, these companies can target you with relevant advertising and spam.
Loading the most recent version of your web browser is your first line of defense. Adjusting the privacy settings on your browser can further reduce web tracking. It is a good idea to set up your browser to block third party cookies and to automatically clear your browsing data when you exit. Many browsers have additional security settings that provide even more protection. Be aware that some of these settings may cause inconvenience when using the web. You will need to determine the balance between convenience and security that is right for you.
Lastly, don’t conduct internet searches while logged into an account on the search engine. For example, don’t sign into your Google account and then proceed to conduct searches on Google. Your search activity will be linked to your account and your identity. A good tip is to use a different search engine to conduct searches than you use to access accounts.
Many users have WIFI capability in their homes. This is great as long as you are the only one who can access it! Make sure that a password is required in order to access your WIFI connection. Your WIFI signal should be encrypted using WPA. You may also want to change the SSID name assigned to your WIFI connection.
For starters, it is a good idea to have a primary e-mail address and an alternate e-mail address. The primary address would be used for communication with friends and relatives, critical financial accounts, etc. The alternate address would be used for less secure activities such as some on-line purchases, contacts with strangers, etc. As a rule, don’t include account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers, passwords, etc. in your e-mails. If possible, use a webmail service that provides encryption.
Watch out for phishing activity. Don’t respond to e-mails asking for your account numbers, personal ID numbers or passwords. Warning…some of these e-mails may look like they are from a legitimate site. Be extremely careful when opening attachments from unknown parties. If you are unsure whether an attachment is from a legitimate source, don’t open it!
If you have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Yahoo, or similar sites, it is advisable to tightly control how your personal information is disseminated to other individuals and organizations. Each site has a variety of privacy settings to help you with this. Review these settings carefully and adjust them to accommodate your personal situation.
Most of the ideas above apply to both computers and mobile devices. However, you may want to investigate additional privacy precautions related to your particular mobile devices. These may include Android security settings and location tracking. Be careful when downloading free mobile apps. Avoid posting or authorizing access to your International Mobile Equipment Identity number (IMEI).
Simple instructions for performing many of the recommendations above can be found at Priveasy.com
There are many more sophisticated tools available to further improve your internet privacy. However, the recommendations in this post represent the low hanging fruit that should be picked before moving on to the others.
It is important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as 100% online privacy. Even if you are diligent and faithfully practice all of the recommendations above, you could STILL be the victim of fraud, sabotage or identity theft. Always be on the lookout for potential intrusions. Review your credit card statements and notify the creditor immediately if you don’t recognize a charge. Obtain free copies of your credit reports every year and review the information carefully. Change accounts, e-mail addresses, passwords, etc. if you suspect any unlawful activity.
When it comes to online privacy, it truly is better to be safe than sorry!
Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, one of the nation’s largest providers of promotional products for businesses large and small. Amsterdam specializes in custom pens and other promotional items such as calendars, laptop bags and T-shirts. Christopher regularly contributes to Amsterdam Printing’s blog.