Internet privacy tips are often complex and mind numbing and, generally promote an overblown reliance on technology. In this guest article, IT professional Robert Coulter, cuts through the knarly knot of the usual wooden security tips with a range of suggestions designed to keep hackers and other nefarious types away from your important private data while online.
As revealed in Wired Magazine, every piece of electronic communication is able to be intercepted by someone, somewhere. Even Internet giants like LinkedIn can be compromised, as an estimated 6.5 million password were hacked earlier this month. With that in mind, the only real way to guarantee complete online security is to never go online at all. Since this is neither practical nor desirable, by most people, there are still steps you can take to protect your online security and protect your personal information while enjoying the benefits of the Web.
This first tip is simply common sense. Don’t share more than is necessary on the Web, especially on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. While it can be fun, consider the risks from sharing every last detail of your life with the world, such as birth date, where you go (check-ins), pictures of your children, details of your job and relationships.
All of these details make social engineering hacks easy to perform and open you up to identity theft. Do your bank accounts have common security questions like “Mother’s Maiden Name?” or “City of Birth?” protecting your passwords in the event you need to reset them? Well, chances are this information is easily found by snooping around your social media profiles, making it an easy matter to reset passwords on sensitive accounts.
If you do insist on sharing, at least tighten up your Facebook privacy settings and keep your circle of friends small and limited to those you actually know. Also, disable the most invasive features, like check-ins and photo tagging.
Use a cloud-based antivirus rather than a signature-based one.
Cloud-based antivirus solutions, such as those offered by Webroot and Symantec, do away with large signature file downloads, which eat up bandwidth and can take up to several gigabytes of hard drive space. Instead, all of the signatures reside in “the cloud” and every file and Web request gets run against this ever-growing, real time database using the provider’s resources rather than your computer’s, speeding things up greatly and providing the most up-to-date protection.
Set stronger passwords.
ElcomSoft recently did a study that estimates just 25% of people regularly change their password. Setting a strong password, and changing it frequently, is key to protect your identity. Many experts suggest using long strings of random gibberish with special characters for greatest safety, but these can become nearly impossible to remember, leading to the insecure solution of storing them in an unprotected spreadsheet or on little bits of paper which can get lost.
One way to get a strong password that is easy to remember is to use a four word phrase, such as “kayaking beats drudge work” and substituting the spaces for a special character, such as “#” or “_.” The length and randomness will take a hacker more time than it is worth to figure out, while also being easy to commit to your own memory.
Use a Mailinator account on potential spam sites.
Mailinator is a great tool for signing up for web offers without actually providing your real email address. Mailinator works by allowing you to invent a disposable email address, which you can check without a password and which keeps messages for only 24 hours before being automatically erased. This is great when signing up for a site which seems to offer something enticing, but which might be spammy or even a hacker site, as your real email address is never revealed.
Deactivate old or unnecessary accounts.
Old accounts might leave your information scattered across the Internet for anyone to mine, especially on sites past their prime and maintained very irregularly by their administrators, as they tend to have lax security measures. The answer is to delete these old accounts. Even Facebook now has a “delete” feature, rather than just the “deactivate” one, so take advantage of this to clean up your online traces and reduce the temptation for hackers to learn more about you in an unwholesome way.
In conclusion, online threats are constantly evolving, and the best guardian of personal data is truly the individual user himself. Be smart and be skeptical when online it just might save you thousands of dollars and countless hours of heartache.
Guest author Bio: Robert Coulter works in the security industry at authentify.com which offers two-factor verification solutions for companies who need increased security protection for their clients.