Are you worried about how much of your private information is on the internet and may be vulnerable to theft or misuse? Not surprising, online privacy is an important issue. But there are steps you can take to help manage financial and personal information while using your favorite social media, news, and entertainment sites.
Limit the Personal Information you share on social media
Providing too much information on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram could make it easier for cybercriminals to obtain identifying information. Thus allowing them to steal your identity or access your financial information.
For example, could an identity thief determine your high school or pet’s name by digging through your Facebook account? This information is sometimes used as security questions to change passwords on financial accounts. These security questions are common across sites and could get leaked in a data breach.
To help protect your online privacy, ignore the “About Me” fields in your social media profiles. You do not have to divulge what year, or where you were born, or any other personal facts about yourself — which could make you an easier target for identity theft.
Review the different privacy settings. You might want to limit the people who can view your posts to those personally invited and who you know.
Always create strong passwords for your social media profiles to help prevent others from logging into them. Use a combination of 12 or more numbers, special characters, and upper- and lower-case letters. As a final step, you should add 2-Factor Authentication so that even if your password is stolen, scammers will still need this second piece to access your accounts.
Browse in Private Mode
If you do not want your computer to save your browsing history, temporary internet files, or cookies, do your web surfing in private mode.
Web browsers offer unique versions of this form of privacy protection. The privacy feature in Chrome is called Incognito Mode. In Firefox, it’s Private Browsing, and Internet Explorer calls it InPrivate Browsing. When you search with these modes turned on, others won’t be able to trace your browsing history from your computer.
Keep in mind these private modes aren’t completely private. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can still see your browsing activity. If you are searching on a company computer, so can your employer. Finally, the websites you visit can also track you.
So, turning on one of these private modes does have certain benefits. But there are more smart steps and tools to protect your online privacy.
Use a Different Search Engine
If you are like many web surfers, you rely heavily on Google as your search engine. But you don’t have to. Privacy is one reason people prefer to use anonymous search engines.
Anonymous search engines do not collect or share your search history or clicks. They can also block ad trackers on the websites you visit.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your Internet Protocol (IP) address making your online actions virtually untraceable.
Using a VPN is especially important when on public Wi-Fi at a library, coffee shop, or other public location. A VPN will make it more difficult for cybercriminals to breach your online privacy and access personal information.
Think Before You Click
Hackers use phishing attempts to, hopefully, compromise your online privacy. In phishing, scammers try to trick you into providing valuable financial or personal information. They will often do this by sending fake emails that appear to be from banks, credit card providers, or other financial institutions. These emails may ask you to click on a link and verify your financial information to keep your account from being frozen or closed.
Don’t fall for these scams. If you click on a phishing link, you could be taken to a spoofed webpage that looks like the homepage of a bank or financial institution. But when you enter your account information, you’ll be sending it to the scammers behind the phishing attempt.
Before clicking on unknown or suspicious links, hover your cursor over the link to view the destination URL. If it doesn’t match the financial website you use, don’t click on it!
Secure your Mobile Devices
Many of us spend more time surfing the web, answering emails, and watching videos on our smartphones than on our laptops. It’s important to put as much effort into protecting our online privacy on our phones and tablets as on our computers.
Always use a passcode to lock your phone. It might be annoying, at times, to have to unlock it every time you want to use it, but your passcode could offer an extra layer of protection if your phone is lost or stolen. Make sure your passcode is complex. Do not use your birthdate, your house number, or any other code that thieves might be able to guess.
Be very careful when downloading apps. Those games and productivity tools could come embedded with dangerous malware. You should only download apps, programs, movies, and music from legitimate websites or services.
Use the same caution when searching the web or reading emails on your mobile devices as when using your laptop or desktop computer. Scammers are hoping you are more distracted while on your mobile devices.
As always, keep your software up to date. These updates often include protections against the latest viruses and patch security holes.
Use Good Anti-virus Software
Finally, always install anti-virus software on all your devices. This software can keep hackers from remotely taking over your computer, stealing personal and financial information, encrypting it so you are unable to access it, even erasing it, or it could track your location.
Manufacturers frequently update their virus protection software against the latest malware, spyware, and other viruses. Install updates as soon as they become available, or set up automatic updates on all your devices.