How to Protect Yourself Online
Almost everyone uses the Internet daily for a multitude of reasons. But are you safe online or are you compromising your own security? Here are some tips to help protect yourself online and not be a victim of online identity theft.
Use Your Own Computer and Internet
One of the biggest security risks you can take is to use a computer you can’t control. If your personal information is involved, do not use a public computer or public internet access. There are many types of software that can be installed to compromise your browsing activities.
If you absolutely have to use someone else’s computer, make sure to use private browsing mode and delete your browsing data (cookies, temporary files, cache, etc.) after you’re through.
If you have a wireless network at home, make sure it is properly protected with WPA2 with AEP encryption. DO NOT use WEP or TKIP encryption. That would be shutting your front door and leaving it unlocked.
Be Careful When Downloading
Most of the compromising software found on computers is not actually a virus. It’s usually adware, spyware, malware or a Trojan. Compromises can typically be averted if you are careful about your browsing activities and what you download. Do not download email attachments that you are unsure about. Do not download random software the Internet tells you to.
Protect Yourself When Shopping Online
Only shop at legitimate retailers who have secure browsing enabled. Do not enter credit card or any personal information beyond name and email address on a website that does not have a security certificate. You can tell by the address bar: there is usually a padlock icon and sometimes the address bar turns green. To get information about the security certificate, click the padlock icon; it will pop up with relevant info about the online retailer.
Use temporary credit card numbers if you can and avoid using your debit card. If the number gets compromised, it’s much easier to recover from fraudulent credit card purchases.
Use Strong and Different Passwords
Ideally, you should use different passwords for every website in case one of them gets compromised. But if you don’t want to do that, it’s better to use a few different passwords. Use one password for financial sites like your bank and credit card company, a separate password for things like email and then a completely different password for “fun” sites like Facebook.
Strong passwords should have 15-20 or more random characters, with numerals and symbols. You can use a password generator to come up with them.
You can also use password software like 1Password, Last Pass or keep track of them in a password-protected text document. It’s also safer to write passwords down on paper and keep it at your desk if you are not worried about your friends and family.
Delete Your Browsing Data Regularly
Cookies are the big one to worry about because they can track your online whereabouts. There are some websites that will continue to track your behavior when you visit other websites, usually for marketing purposes. By deleting your browsing data regularly, they get a more distorted picture of you.
Turn Off Cookies
Alternatively, you can turn off cookies for most sites. You do not need to have cookies enabled to search Google or Yahoo or visit blogs. You do need a cookie to login to websites, however, so you can allow cookies from certain domains, but block the others.
Use Separate Email Addresses
Similar to the separate passwords, you can beef up your online security by using multiple email addresses. Use one for financial websites like banks, use a separate one for friends and family and use another one for entertainment sites.
Keep Personal Info to Yourself
Do not share personal information or make it publically available. The less online strangers know about you, the better off you are. You can also fib about yourself when commenting on blogs and forums to help obscure details like your location, age and name.
Give Fake Answers to Security Questions
Most security questions can easily be found out. Your mother’s maiden name, your high school, these things are public record. Your first pet or your favorite color are also not questions you’d think twice about answering if a friend asked you. By using fake answers to security questions, you ensure that someone couldn’t guess them. However, there is the issue of remembering what you gave. Write it down, put them in a password protected document or use the same weird answer for everything.