Leaks, leaks, and more leaks! Online privacy is under fire. We’ve probably all seen news items come out about various celebrities, newsworthy public personalities, and political figures who have been less careful than they should be with information that was not meant for public consumption – for example, personal profile information, financial documents, or even highly personal photos. What would you do if your most private information was suddenly available online, for anyone to see and comment on? Just imagine: pictures, videos, financial information, emails…all accessible without your knowledge or consent to anyone who cares to look for this online. What a nightmare!
Keeping information safe and protected online is a growing concern for many people, not just political figures and celebrities. It’s smart to consider what privacy precautions you might have in place for your own personal information: financial, legal, and personal. In this article, we’re going to go over five practical ways you can start protecting your privacy while online to guard yourself against any potential leaks, avoid embarrassment, and keep your information safe and secure. These are common sense, easy, practical steps that anyone can implement; in other words, you don’t have to be a technological guru.
Passwords and Usernames: Make Them Unique
Do you use the same username and password for all the services that you use online? You might be interested to learn that many people use the same usernames and passwords across all their online services. After all, there are so many, and it can be difficult to keep track of a different login and password for all of them. How do you remember all of those? If you’re looking for a way to generate and keep track of multiple secure passwords, KeePass is a good option, plus, it’s absolutely free: “KeePass is a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database. The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known (AES and Twofish).”
Hacking into someone’s username and password for a service is becoming more and more accessible to anyone who wants to do it, and if you’re using the same username and password across multiple services, one simple hack could potentially turn into a disaster. Keep your usernames and passwords safe and unique to avoid this issue.
Don’t Make Assumptions About the Safety of Your Information Online
We hear on a regular basis these days about the infiltration of supposedly “safe” services. Your information is safe – until it isn’t. Always take the maximum precautions when using any service online; for example, check your privacy settings. See if you’ve authorized third-party apps to access your information (Facebook is particularly notorious for this practice). Lock down the services you use to make sure that the privacy settings are what you are comfortable with.
For example, online storage sites such as DropBox do a pretty good job of keeping your information safe and secure. However, if you’re concerned that what you’re uploading is especially sensitive, you should encrypt it – services like BoxCryptor will do that for you for free (tiered pricing levels do apply).
Be Cautious When Sharing Your Information Online
How many times have you given out your name or other information online this week? We’re asked to fill out forms or log into a new service all the time on the Web. What is all this information used for? Do you know? Companies make a lot of money analyzing and using the data that we are freely giving them. If you’d like to stay a little bit more private, you can use BugMeNot to avoid filling out unnecessary forms that ask for too much personal information and keep it for other uses. In addition, make sure that you’re not giving away too much information online when there’s no clear usage guidelines.
Don’t Give Out Your Personal Information
You’ve just won something online – so please give us your name, phone number, and a valid credit card number! Does this sound legit? Probably not. We should all know by now that giving out personal information (name, address, phone number, etc.) is a big no-no online. However, many people don’t realize that the information that they are posting on forums and message boards and social media platforms can be put together piece by piece to create a very complete picture. This practice is called “doxxing“, and is becoming more of a problem, especially since many people use the same username across all of their online services, thus giving people easy access to much more than they think they have available online.
In order to avoid this happening, be extremely cautious in how much information you’re giving out, and make sure you don’t use the same username across services (see the first paragraph in this article for a quick review!). You’ll also want to read this article on doxxing to learn more what it is and how you can avoid it.
Log Out When You’re Done
Has this scenario happened to you? Jerry decides to take a break at work, and during that time, he decides to check his bank balance. He gets distracted and leaves the bank balance page up on his computer, leaving secure information out for anyone to see and use. A malicious hacker – or even just a nosy colleague – can grab an astonishing amount of information that they can then use to compromise your online privacy.
This kind of incident happens all the time: financial information, social media logins, email, etc. can all be compromised extremely easily. The best practice is to make sure you’re on a secure computer (not public or work) when you’re looking at personal information, and to log out of any site you might be using on a public computer so that other people who have access to that computer will not be able to access your information.
Make Your Online Privacy a Priority
You don’t have to settle for lack of safety and privacy online; in fact, it’s entirely possible to make sure your information is completely safe. Let’s face it: while we’d like to think that everyone we come in contact with has our best interests at heart, this is sadly not always the case — and especially applies when we’re online. Use the tips in this article to protect yourself from unwanted leaks of your personal information on the web.