Personal security is something all of us desire. That’s why we put aside money for the future, add keypad operated gates to our homes, choose automobiles with alarms, and insure our valuables in the event of theft.
We’re pretty good at managing the risk of physical theft, but most people aren’t so knowledgeable about how to protect personal information online.
In fact, many of us are pretty clueless. We don’t separate session hijacking from spear phishing, VPNs are a mystery, and we couldn’t spot a spoof website in a million years. But we can sharpen up. As this blog explains, personal information security is achievable if we know how to implement some simple ideas.
Why it’s important to protect your privacy online
Online privacy isn’t a small issue. With the rise of online shopping and social media, it’s now a crucial life skill. Getting it wrong can cost huge amounts of money, as well as leading to personal stress or worse – if the wrong people get hold of your photos or videos.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were 16.7 million instances of identity fraud in 2017, and some $17 billion was stolen from US consumers.
Phishing attacks are showing an uptick in 2018, and the average cost of a synchronized phishing attacks for companies is a massive $1.6 million.
Moreover, phishing attacks are showing an uptick in 2018, and the average cost of a synchronized phishing attacks for companies is a massive $1.6 million. So whether you are an individual at home or a small business owner, you need to know how to protect personal information online.
Top 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 which are easy to remember and linked to their personal lives, instead of words which are almost impossible to guess. And far too many use the same 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. It’s better than using the same passcode for every online portal.
2. Use a VPN
Nowadays, savvy web users employ Virtual Private Networks to add an extra layer of personal privacy on the internet. These tools encrypt data leaving your computer and route it via third party servers which scramble your identity. Nobody who is 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.
3. Avoid clicking on links in emails
Email phishing has reached epidemic levels. Every day, we seem to receive messages asking us to believe hard luck stories or click on strangely worded web links. Often, these emails 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. They go through secure portals. Instead, these links can open the door to all sorts of trouble, including trojans which hijack your computer. Avoiding unsolicited outbound links is a vital way to protect your privacy online.
4. Always 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. Do don’t take the risk.
5. Use your browser’s incognito mode
Even if you don’t use VPNs, you can ensure a high degree of anonymity to protect your data online by turning on your browser’s “incognito mode”. This automatically deletes cookies and nasties which can track your online activity, and keeps any activity private from users who share the same computer. For instance, it can help if you need to use hotdesking terminals or library computers. It’s not as watertight as a good VPN, but it’s definitely a key tool to have in your locker.
6. Keep your antivirus 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 virus checker up to date. And try to resist the urge to rely on free or cut-price security tools. Virus protection is somewhere where you get what you pay for, and it’s a vital part of personal information security.
7. 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 personal privacy on the internet. Badly run sites can be vulnerable to hackers, who can harvest credit card details with ease. So always look for security certifications like Verisign. And be wary of sellers who don’t ask for your credit card’s CVV.
8. Be careful about sharing online
These days, social media is a huge part of most people’s online activity. But the popularity of platforms like Facebook 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 very careful about publicly sharing information about your identity, location and your date of birth. Remember that personal details can be used to steal your identity and access bank accounts, so keep them private if possible.
9. Always be on the lookout for spoofs
One of the most common phishing tactics is creating “spoof” websites. These sites look just like the real thing (or near enough), and entice users to enter their personal details. Spotting spoofs isn’t always easy, but some good indications include slightly misspelled domain names, unusually low prices, requests to use bank transfers, and the absence of things like “about us” sections.
Be strategic to protect your privacy online
All of these tips can help to protect your privacy, but they won’t be nearly as effective if you apply them individually. Instead, it’s much better to come up with a personal privacy strategy which incorporates best practice in every area.
So, for example, think about protecting your privacy on social media. How do you interact with people (especially strangers and companies). Are you too free with personal details? And then think about your email practices. What happens when you click a government email? Do you look at the address line to check the sender, or head straight for the content? Can you spot a spoof address or a fake website?
Most people have an idea about how to stay safe online, but don’t apply their security practices across the board. So be thorough, be alert, and be savvy with tools like VPNs and incognito mode. That way, you’re browsing can be as private as your home life.