When I started my job as Cybermum – over 10 years ago – it was quite common to strategise ways to prevent your private information appearing online. But those days have long gone. Unless you have been living off the grid and opted out of life completely, having an online presence is now essential. Whether you’re paying bills, booking appointments or renewing your insurance premiums, many companies have made it almost impossible to conduct your business in person, forcing even the most reluctant of us online.
Now, many of us consider ourselves to be proactive in managing just what we share online by using VPNs, not always setting up accounts with online stores and ensuring our social media privacy settings are nice and tight. But unfortunately, managing your privacy online is more complicated than that. In fact, most of us maybe sharing our private information online every day without even knowing. So, in the spirit of keeping you safe – here are three different areas that I suggest you focus on to ensure you know exactly where you are sharing your private information
1. Your Everyday Browsing
Every time you visit an online site, send an email, search for information or basically do anything online, multiple parties collect this information. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP), Wi-Fi network administrator, operating system e.g. Windows or iOS, search engine plus the websites and apps you use will all keep a record of what’s you’re up to – even if you are in Incognito Mode!
What each of these parties does with your private information varies. Your ISP, for example, can easily put together a pretty accurate profile based on your searching, location and downloads and link this to your IP (unique) address. This data can be held for years – subject to your country’s laws and could potentially be used for surveillance, policing and even advertising.
Now I appreciate that my ISP is required to collect information for the greater good but I am far less comfortable when search engines, websites and apps collect my private data. Since the Cambridge Analytica Scandal of 2018, the industry has definitely had a shake-up however this can still be a risky business.
How To Stay Safe
- Consider using a VPN to ensure the private information you share online is encrypted and protected.
- Refrain from setting up accounts on every website you visit. Buy items as a guest to avoid creating login details.
- Consider a search engine that doesn’t collect and store your information. And there are loads of more ‘privacy focussed’ options to choose from. Check out DuckDuckGo – a website that doesn’t profile users or track or sell your information to third parties.
- Never download apps from unknown sources. They may be designed to mine your personal information. Only download apps from reputable sources e.g. App Store for Apple or the Google Play store for Android devices.
- Always read reviews to see if anyone has had a problem with an app and always check the fine print before you download.
You know those annoying pop-up adds that just randomly appear on your devices? Well – that’s adware, software that is designed to generate revenue through advertisements. Many of us download it without knowing – you may have downloaded a free program or app without realising it contained bonus adware software. Alternatively, hackers can insert it into your system by exploiting a vulnerability in your software – that’s why you need to keep all your software updated!
And while those pop-ups can be super irritating what you really need to worry about is that adware can compromise your online privacy. Adware is designed to track your search and browsing history so it can display ads that are most relevant to you. And once the adware developer has your location and browser history, they are likely to sell this info to a third party, making themselves a nice, tidy profit – all without you even knowing!!
How To Stay Safe
- Use a super-duper internet security software like McAfee’s Total Protection that will identify and remove adware.
- Keep your software and operating systems updates to prevent hackers from introducing adware into your system.
- Phishing emails are a renowned source of adware links – never open links in an email if you aren’t 100% sure it’s safe.
When I first discovered autofill, I was hooked! No need to tediously enter your name, address, telephone number- even credit card – every time you need it! How good?? But I have since learnt that having autofill enabled on your computer means your personal information is at risk of being hacked. Cybercrims have mastered the art of capturing our credentials by tricking browsers to share our personal details and here’s how: unsuspecting people are lured to a compromised website that has an invisible form. Autofill identifies that there is a form on the site and then gives up your private information allowing the hacker to collect your credentials.
My Top Tips
- Disable auto-fill – yes it’s convenient but it’s just too risky. Here’s some advice on how to make that happen.
- Use a Safe Search service to ensure you don’t get involved in fraudulent websites. Check out McAfee’s WebAdvisor – it’s free!
Not sure whether it’s worth the effort? Well, let me make it simple – if you want to lock down your online identity to ensure your financial health and reputation aren’t compromised then you need to do something very soon! Imagine losing your hard-earned savings or having your Instagram account hacked and your reputation compromised? Not fun at all – so it’s time to take action, my friends.
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