We live in a world that thrives on digital connectivity. According to We Are Social, Canadians are now spending half a day more a month online than they did a year ago. Also, 33 million Canadians logged on to the internet at least once a month in 2020. As more people every year are spending hours upon hours online, they are knowingly (and sometimes unknowingly) unsafely releasing their personal information into the digital ether, making them vulnerable to all sorts of cybercrimes. The ramifications range anywhere from malware infection to identity fraud. Better understanding the best practices for online sharing will ensure users can navigate online dangers and safely connect with others.
Here are three ways online users share too much information and how they are placing themselves at risk.
1. Autosaving and Sharing Personal Details
Think about how many websites you visit regularly. How many of these have access to your personal information, such as your email, credit card numbers, and shipping address? Before accepting the option to save your information on file for a “faster checkout experience,” consider the following: A Canadian Internet Registration Authority polled 500 IT security professionals, and a quarter of them experienced a breach of customer data in 2020. Online users cannot afford to take liberties with the information they hand over to online companies, especially if they subscribe to numerous sites.
On a similar note, it is equally inadvisable to hand over information about yourself. Although seemingly harmless, online quizzes may not be as safe as you think. Some quiz questions sound more like security questions such as, “What was the first car you owned?” or “Where did you grow up?” Hackers using spyware can access these answers and anything else you enter on quiz sites to formulate informed guesses at your passwords.
2. Oversharing on Social Media
It may seem counterintuitive not to share information on social media, seeing as the purpose of these platforms is to share. However, the problem with social media is that too many people are leaving themselves exposed to hackers due to the specificity of the information they share. More than two-thirds of Canadians are on social media, according to Statista, meaning there are millions of user profiles and newsfeeds brimming with personal information. Specific information such as company details in a new job announcement or your birth date in a celebration post are details hackers can use to impersonate you or break into your accounts. Additionally, cybercriminals can impersonate people in your network or pose as average users and add you as a friend. Hackers will often use this tactic to get close to someone and gather intel to formulate a targeted phishing attempt or identity theft.
While you can take proper precautions to safeguard your personal information, you cannot guarantee that others will do so with the same vigilance. Many do not realize there is more at stake than a loss of privacy when intentionally sharing information, usually login credentials, with others. If your friend you shared your password with is hacked, then a cybercriminal can now access your information as well as theirs. Cybercriminals can then use this information to break into your accounts, hold your data for ransom, and even steal your identity.
How to Safely Share Online
Knowing what is safe to share online and how to protect the information that is not is the first step to safeguarding your online presence. Here are four tips to consider before sharing your personal details on websites, social media, and with others:
1. Verify website and online security
Always err on the side of caution whenever you visit unknown sites or download applications on your devices. Be aware of what you click on, the ramifications of clicking on a malicious link, or handing over information on an unsecured website. One way to ensure you are visiting a secure website is to look for the padlock icon in the top left corner of your browser. This icon indicates the site and your connection are secure.
Take your internet protection one step further and avoid saving your information on file. If possible, use an alternate payment gateway with verified encryption that does not require inputting your credit card information. This way, your data does not become a liability in the event of a company data breach.
2. Rethink your privacy on social media
There’s a fine line between sharing too much and sharing just enough on social media. Start taking control of your privacy on social media by adjusting your privacy settings. Unless you are an aspiring social media influencer, it is best to keep your account private and limit your followers to only people you know personally. Do not follow strangers and reject friend requests from strangers. They could turn out to be a hacker.
Take advantage of platform security controls that allow you to control your visible information. For example, you can disable your activity status or geolocations to block other people from tracking your every move or manage the personal data these platforms are allowed to share. Keep in mind that any third-party app with access to these platforms will have varied privacy policies. Read the fine print on their user agreements, as these policies differ depending on the app.
3. Use a VPN
Before hopping online, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to secure your connection. A VPN allows you to browse the internet with the confidence that your Wi-Fi and any sensitive information you send through this connection is encrypted. In other words, if a hacker intercepts this data, they won’t be able to make any sense of it.
4. Leverage a reliable authentication system
Enabling multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of protection that makes it nearly impossible for hackers to bypass even if they do manage to steal your credentials.
Also, make sure you create strong passwords or passphrases by following password best practices and ensuring they are long, complex, and varied. Use a password manager with a generator to help you create strong passwords and store them, so you do not have to memorize them. This method also makes it easier and more secure than saving passwords on internet browsers. Further, password managers, like McAfee True Key, make it easy to securely share your credentials with others.
Prioritize Online Safety and Connectivity
From social media to work to daily activities, peoples’ lives are centralized around their digital devices and online access. Users must learn to care for their information to the same degree one would manage their physical IDs or credit cards. Only then can they carry on their online activities, confident in the knowledge they are doing so securely.
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