In the last year, there have been a number of internet hacking scandals that have the whole country wondering just how secure the information is that they are putting onto the internet. The most recent attack being on Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, Established Men, and Cougar Life. The group responsible, the Impact Team, brought to light the fact that the company was charging Ashley Madison users a $19 fee to have all of their data completely scrubbed from their servers. The Impact Team said that this was not the case, that the users’ information was still accessible. The hackers are demanding that those sites be shut down or the personal and financial information of their clients will be released onto the web (As of now, they have begun releasing the information of some). Many other websites, companies, and organizations have been hacked, from celebrities’ accounts to other retail companies. Each article published releases information to consumers about how to beef up their online security and to protect their identity, as the information that they post online can be used to track down to them in real life, as illustrated by the previous hacks.
Here I’ve gathered my some tips about how to make your online identity even more secure. (There have also been a number of security breaches of financial information of people who do not shop online, like Target, Neiman Marcus, and Michaels to name a few, but this blog is going to focus primarily on internet safety.)
In order to keep your identity safe and to use the internet safely, you need to utilize as many layers of protection as possible. Just being aware of what could possibly happen and taking the necessary steps to help prevent that will not necessarily guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to you online, but will certainly make it harder for someone to gain access to your information.
Here are some handy tips to help you use the internet safely:
1. Be careful what you post online. Everything you post online will be there forever. Even if you delete your account, certain websites, like the Wayback Machine, save websites over time and allow users to pull up a web address and pick any date in history to see what that page looked like on that specific date. Most social media sites allow you to make your page private, so look for the safety or security settings within that account. Share only what you are comfortable with everyone seeing and don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
2. Create a secure password. Change your passwords often and make them at least 8 characters long with a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid easy to guess words and personal information.
3. Think before you download an app. Most apps request access to your personal information, ranging from your pictures, contact lists, phone book, and friends list. On certain mobile devices, you can deny the app access to your personal or financial information and still be able to download the app.
4. Make sure you have a secure location and you leave the internet secure. This involves making sure that you have an https:// connection at the top of the browser and locking for a padlock up at the top, meaning that the site you are on is encrypted. If you are accessing a website that requires you to log-in, make sure that you are logging out before you close out of the browser or someone else can easily access your account. Never give out your credit card information without checking to make sure that the site is secure. You can buy a disposable credit card through your credit card company or through a retailer that you can load with a preset amount of money, so that if you are hacked, your personal information is safe and the only thing that is compromised is what is on that card. Use all the security options present on your device. Many computers, tablets, and phones offer lock screens, passwords, and sometimes even fingerprint lock options.
5. Be on the alert for scammers. Don’t give out your personal information online to somebody that you do not know! Scammers will try to steal your information, so don’t give it out over text messages, phone, mail, or the Internet, unless you are 100% sure you know who you are dealing with. If you are even the slightest bit unsure, close out of your email, open a new browser, and type in the company’s web address to contact them through their customer service.
6. Install security software. Run the virus checks and make sure that everything stays updated. Most businesses recommend virus, malware, and firewall protection. Some examples of these are AVG, McAfee security scan, Microsoft security options, and ZoneAlarm free firewall. There are other options available online. Do your research to figure out which one is the best for your needs. Some new computers come with free antivirus software as well.
7. Dispose of your personal information. If you are planning on recycling your old computer, make sure to wipe the hard drive; just erasing it will not do the job. Your hard drive stores all of your personal information and a not wiped one is a scammer’s dream to find! Make sure to recycle your electronics and shred any personal documents as well.
Check out some resources the library has available to help inform you on internet safety, online security, identity theft, and identity protection, as well as some real-life stories. Click on the covers for more information and to put these materials on hold!