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Personal security is something we all desire. That’s why we put aside money for the future, add keypad operated gates to our homes, and insure our valuables against theft. We’re pretty good at managing the risk of physical theft, but most people aren’t so knowledgeable about how to protect their personal information online.
In fact, many of us are pretty clueless. We don’t know how to recognize a phishing email, use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) only for torrenting, and keep our social media profiles as complete and accurate as possible. But we can sharpen up.
In fact, we can secure our personal information just by following these simple tips.
Why it’s important to protect your privacy online
Maintaining your online privacy isn’t a small issue. With the rise of online shopping and social media, it’s now a crucial life skill. Not knowing how to protect your personal information online can cost huge amounts of money. It can also lead to personal stress or worse if the wrong people get hold of your private photos or videos.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were 1.4 million instances of identity fraud in 2018, with consumers losing $1.48 billion, an increase of $406 million from 2017
So whether you are an individual at home or a small business owner, you need to know how to protect personal information online. Below are the most important tips that you should follow if you want to protect your private data and your private parts from getting exposed online.
Top 10 tips to protect personal information online
1. Pick strong, unique passwords
Rule number one of learning how to protect personal information online is managing passwords like a pro. Too many people pick passwords that are easy to remember and are obviously linked to their personal lives, instead of words which are almost impossible to guess. And far too many use the same or only slightly different passwords for every site they use.
Don’t be like them. Pick strong passwords mixing capitalized letters, numbers and symbols, and vary your codes as much as possible. If you need to, keep a hard copy in a secure place. Alternatively, you can use a password manager to store all your passwords online.
2. Lie when asked to set up a password security question
You might think there are not that many people who know your mother’s maiden name. Unfortunately, it might turn out to be the opposite, especially after doing some research.
Password security questions are getting out of fashion, being replaced with more sophisticated password resetting options. But in case you still have too many accounts to remember all your lies, use a password manager instead of writing them all down.
3. Use a VPN
Nowadays, savvy web users take advantage of Virtual Private Networks to add an extra layer of personal privacy on the internet. These tools encrypt data that leaves your computer and route it via third-party servers which scramble your identity. Nobody snooping on your activity can tell what you are reading or downloading, ensuring complete anonymity. Well, almost complete.
Some VPNs are better than others, so choose a reputable company and try to avoid suspicious free services which make huge promises. They probably won’t deliver in the privacy department. Instead, choose one from our best-rated VPNs list and be sure it’ll help protect your personal information.
Or, if you’re in a hurry, you can always go with our top choice when it comes to online safety:
- Excellent security
- Great server list
- Awesome for Netflix
- Good for torrenting
- Very easy to use
- Affordable prices
4. Avoid clicking on links and attachments in emails
Email phishing has reached epidemic levels surpassed only by the Black Plague. Every day, we seem to receive messages asking us to believe hard luck stories or click on strangely worded links. What’s worse, such attacks now extend to text messages, messaging apps, and social media.
Often, these messages look extremely convincing and can persuade people that they really do have to hand over their details to the IRS or Amazon. However, reputable organizations rarely ask for this information via emails. And if the message comes from a friend, it’s best to contact him first to make sure he really found a way to earn $100,000/year by working from home.
Clicking these links can open doors to all sorts of trouble, including trojans which hijack your computer. Therefore before doing so, it’s best to contact the sender to learn if he did send that message. In case of an attachment, make sure you also scan it with anti-malware software first.
5. Log out of any website properly
If you don’t log out of websites, you can leave the door open to anyone else to access your accounts. It’s a bit like leaving your wallet in a store that you intend to return to tomorrow. And it can be just as costly.
If someone can access your computer or identity while you are still logged in, they can easily pretend to possess your identity – a particular problem with payment sites like PayPal, or any online banking.
This is especially important for laptop users because if your computer gets stolen, a thief can easily access private data with the help of automatic logins. If you use auto logins because you can’t remember all the different passwords, you should use a password manager instead.
6. Use your browser’s incognito mode
If you can’t use a VPN, at least ensure that the next person who uses this computer cannot see your browsing history by turning on the “incognito mode.” It also deletes cookies and temporary files which can track your online activity. For instance, it can be helpful if you need to use hotdesking terminals or library computers.
Using the incognito mode regularly prevents seeing targeted ads, which are much better at luring you into the online marketing trap. Otherwise, your demographic and web activity data become available not only to the product seller but also to the information collection companies, which can further use or sell it to third-parties.
7. Keep your anti-malware up to date
Trojan horses and worms can infect your computer and feed whatever you type straight to the hands of criminals. Much of the time, you can avoid this kind of infection by keeping your anti-malware software up to date. And try to resist the urge to rely on free or cut-price security tools. Malware protection is somewhere where you get what you pay for, and it’s a vital part of personal information security.
8. Check security certificates when buying online
Sharing your payment details with eCommerce sites is hard to avoid, but it’s also a real weak point in protecting your privacy on the internet. Poorly run sites can be vulnerable to hackers, who can harvest credit card details with ease.
To protect yourself, always look for security certifications like Verisign and the green address bar part before the URL. Speaking of it, make sure the website’s address starts with “https,” which means a secure connection. Finally, be wary of sellers who don’t ask for your credit card’s CVV, which is used to make sure that an authorized person is making the purchase.
9. Be careful what you share online
These days, social media is a huge part of most people’s online activity. But the popularity of platforms like Instagram and Twitter have made them a hotspot for phishers and other cyber-criminals. This makes it vital to focus on protecting your privacy on social media.
So be careful about publicly sharing your identity, location, and your date of birth. Remember that personal details can be used to steal your identity and access bank accounts, so there’s no need to make them public and freely available to anyone who types in your name in a search engine.
To keep your social network activity more private, go to the settings, and make it available to your friends or followers only. Also, make sure you don’t have location sharing turned on all the time because getting access to such information will show to the hacker where you live and work or study.
10. Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a way of confirming your identity by using two of these three factors – something you have, something you know, and something you are. You’ve probably been using 2FA for quite a while, for example, when taking out cash from the ATM. To do so, you need to produce a credit card (something you have) and also dial in the PIN code (something you know).
With the advent of smartphones, two-factor authentication has become a popular way to login to online banking and similar systems. But if you want to keep your private information safe online, we advise using 2FA to access your social networks and other important accounts. Obviously, this method takes more time, but it’s better to be safe than find yourself unknowingly transferring money to some account in Afghanistan.
Do you know any other useful tips on how to protect personal information online? Don’t hesitate and let us know in the comments section below!
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Mikaela is an investigative journalist that likes to cover the ever-changing world of technology. She tries to keep her finger on the pulse of digital trends and share her insights on the most relevant topics, including big tech, security, privacy, and data breaches.