By Jeff Tinsley
“Security” is a term we are all familiar with. Security comes with locking our cars, keeping valuables in a vault, installing alarm systems for our houses, and so on. However, our online security is just as vulnerable to theft. For instance, did you know identity theft is on the rise? Just last year, 14 million people were reported to be victims of it in the United States alone. Thieves are stealing credit card and social security numbers, opening phony bank accounts, making purchases, and filing fraudulent tax returns—all a result of a breach in online security. But it’s not just our financial information at risk; it’s our personal information too. For example, did you know complete strangers could have access to your home address, your email, your age, the names and ages of your children and even grandchildren? In most cases, all it takes is a simple Google search for this information to be found.
Who or what wants this information? Spammers looking to send emails in mass amounts, hackers trying to obtain financial and health records, and “cookies” tracking your Internet search habits, to name a few. However, the largest threat to your online privacy is YOU. That’s right; much of what puts you at risk online is a direct result of your own Internet habits. The good news is even if you have been haphazardly surfing the web for decades, there is much you can do now to regain control of the information you are exposing on the web. Here are some tips:
- Strengthen passwords. Online banking and shopping are wonderful modern tools that often save individuals time, money, and stress. However, if your passwords are not up to snuff, your personal information could be at risk. The fix: create lengthier passwords with a mixture of upper and lowercase letters alongside numbers and symbols. Stay away from predictable words too, such as pet names and family members, and make sure to use a different password for each site. How will you remember all those passwords? Consider a password manager, which will store them for you, or you could opt for the old fashioned way: write them down on a sheet of paper and keep it somewhere safe.
- Fib. Nowadays, every site wants your home address, phone number, and personal email, even when there is nothing being shipped. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to give it to them, and you shouldn’t. Oftentimes, when you do provide this information, those sites share it with third parties who may put you at risk. Instead, enter a fake address and phone number. 321 Phony Road is a great place to live if you want to keep your personal information off the web.
- Google yourself regularly. Plugging your name into a search engine will provide you with a very basic glimpse into what personal information you are exposing online. Once you’ve found this, you can begin “spring cleaning” your online image. Either manually visit each site, forum, and public list and ask to be removed, or enlist the aid of a professional service that allows you to do this all in one place.
- Use encryption and browse securely. When you browse an unprotected site, you are putting your identity at risk. Any information you enter can easily be stored and/or stolen. It is because of this we must always check the web address. If you don’t see a lock or HTTPS// present before the web address, leave and find a similar site that does. For added security, enlist the help of a “cryptography app.” These provide you with an added level of security by encrypting your information and browsing habits.
- Get a Consumer Identity Management (CIM) service. Sometimes, the task of combing the web for exposed information, deleting that information, and continuously monitoring your online identity can be a daunting one, albeit crucial. With a CIM service, one with an identity theft protection guarantee, you’ll be automatically alerted of any potential data breaches, exposed information, and individuals searching your name.
Follow these simple tips and you can be certain your online identity will be just as safe (if not safer) than your alarm-protected house.
Jeff Tinsley, a tech veteran and serial Internet entrepreneur, founded MyLife.com in 2002 with the goal of building the Internet’s single source for finding people and staying connected. The site recently re-launched, and now tackles online reputation and security management.