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Staying Safe Online: Privacy

Criminals try to gather information about us online in order to scam us and steal our identities. In America in 2012, identity theft cost the average victim $365 and 12 hours of work to rectify. In 2013 there were 13.1 million U.S. adult victims, that’s nearly one victim every two seconds! That figure represents 5.5% of U.S. adults. This is why being savvy with our online privacy is important!

The Risks: Identity theft, Blackmail/extortion, Defamation of character, Unsolicited selling and marketing. To combat these risks, we’ve collected a few hints and tips here which aim to help basic users get a grip on their online privacy. There are better protection mechanisms out there, but we’ve chosen these specifically because they’re simple to implement and shouldn’t impact the user too much or cause too much inconvenience.

 

Step one: Think before you share personal information

Privacy policies clearly explain what data a website gathers about you and how it is used, but these documents are often overly long and filled with legalese (a pseudo-language spoken by lawyers). Now it is recommended that you read the privacy policy, but if you can’t stomach:

 

  • Don’t share more than you need to
  • Many sites ask for information that isn’t required and you can often choose not to answer that question at all
  • Limit which sites you give your email address to, to prevent unsolicited emails called SPAM.
  • If someone calls you on the phone with a deal that sounds too good to be true – it might be a scam!
  • Keep passwords safe, never share them with other people

Make passwords as long and complex as possible; Password1 is a common password and shouldn’t ever be used!

Step Two: Social Media

When using social networks we have to strike a balance between getting the most out of the service and protecting our privacy. You can still make good use of Facebook, Twitter and other sites, without completely eroding your only privacy, but remember:

  • Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t be comfortable with going public
  • Don’t post specific or unneeded details – next time you update your social media status, think again about what you’re disclosing
  • Set your profile to private so that only your confirmed “friends” can see the things you post
  • Remember your friends can post things about you too, if you’re uncomfortable with anything that’s posted remember that the social media sites have ways or reporting posts and having them removed.

Step Three: Protect Your Computer and Mobile Device

It’s not good putting all of this effort in protecting your data online if some no-good hacker can just break in and steal all of the data at the source, so here’s a few simple steps to preventing attacks:

  • Install anti-virus and keep it up to date!
  • Set your operating system to automatically install updates
  • Remember to update your plugins too, like Flash, Adobe Reader and Java. Alternatively, remove them!
  • Disable GPS and Wi-Fi on your mobile device until you need them, these could be used by malicious apps to track your location.
  • Turn on private browsing – take a look in your browser settings and choose more security settings such as private browsing and “Do Not Track”

 

Step Four: Protect Your Traffic

Not all internet connections are safe, free wireless hotspots such as those found in cafes are convenient but they’re public and don’t have the same level of protection that our work and home internet connections do, so:

  • Don’t visit important sites like your bank or personal email when on a public network, wait till you get home
  • Consider a VPN service to add another layer of protection when on public networks.
  • Log out of secure websites when you have finished your transaction, as closing the window may not automatically log you out of the site – look for the “logout” button instead.

 

Step Five: Plug-ins for Privacy

Some organisations offer web browser plugins that can increase your privacy online, we’ve selected two here that you should check out.

  • Ghostery Plugin (https://www.ghostery.com/en-GB/) – this plugin shows you which organisations are tracking you online and lets you block their access.
  • HTTPS Everywhere (https://www.eff.org/HTTPS-everywhere) – many websites offer a secure and insecure connection method, so that you don’t need to worry about the details this plugin makes your browser prefer the more secure option and it’ll always use that method if it’s available.